My friends often ask me if my husband and I have a perfect relationship because we are both couples counselors. To which I always reply, “Of course! . . . not.” Despite all of our training and experience working with couples, we still do get into disagreements. This is perfectly natural. Two adults are never going to see eye-to-eye on everything or be everything always to their romantic partner. This would be unnatural. What are training and expertise do help my husband and I do is repair our relationship after we loose our connection and lessen the frequency of arguments. One of the tools that we use is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of being present in the moment. The history of mindfulness comes from Buddhism and is a seated meditation practice. While such a practice is strongly encouraged many of us can’t find the time or desire to meditate. Fortunately, it is possible to begin to bring mindfulness tools into your relationship without years and years of meditating. Here are a few ways.
- Take a Breath. A starting point in being more mindful is connecting with your breath. Even as you are reading this article you can check-in with your breathing. Are you breathing from your nose or your mouth? What is the quality of your breath? This simple inquiry activates your parasympathetic nervous system which calms the body. By tuning into your breath you have the ability to lower your heart-rate and bring more oxygen to your muscles. This can be a handy trick when your partner is not driving to your designated standards. Instead of lashing out see if you can take a few deep breaths. Check-in with your body and feel what sensations come up. The results might surprise you.
- Be Present. Oftentimes disagreements in a relationship triggers an unresolved childhood wound. Unconsciously, your partner becomes your mother or father. This is why clashes with your intimate partner can seem so painful because the discord often cuts deeper than what is occurring on the surface. Again, accessing your breath can be a rescue rope in such situations because acknowledging your breath brings your mind into the present moment…By being in the present moment you are less susceptible to getting lost in thoughts and emotions from the past that may cloud a current conflict. Bringing your attention to your breath doesn’t mean you checkout from what is occurring between you and your partner but rather the breath enables you to keep a connection with yourself. The breath is a way to more accurately monitor what you are experiencing in the moment while engaging with your partner. Again, it is best to try these techniques for yourself and discover what you experience.
- Awareness of Your State of Being. All too often, quarrels between partners occur when they have been drinking. This does not mean that drinking is bad necessarily but it can be very helpful to know that drinking may affect the dynamics of a relationship. In my office, many couples recall fights they had after a party or dinner. I’ll ask them if they had been drinking earlier and usually they were. Drinking often causes distorted thinking, acute sensitivity or belligerent behavior. Think back to the most recent quarrels with your partner. Was there drinking involved? It is good to be aware of what circumstances may have contributed to your argument to see if they might be avoided in the future. For instance, waiting to discuss important topics when both partners are sober and can better process the information. Aside from being aware of our physical state it is also useful to be aware of our emotional state. Knowing how we are feeling at any given moment is extremely valuable. For example, if you had a bad day at the office and are angry and are able to identify how you are feeling and why you are less apt to unconsciously take out your anger on your partner. We get better and better at recognizing how we are feeling by investigating the sensations in our body. Your body will let you know.
- Listen. Another common reason couples don’t get along is because of miscommunication. With so much going on in our busy lives it is easy to see how this can happen. Sometimes, giving our full attention to our partner seems the exception rather than the rule. Really listening to your partner is a precious gift. Even 10 minutes of really being present with your loved one can improve your relationship. Making the most of those 10 minutes could mean making eye contact or touching one another. Or listening and not letting the mind wonder while the other person is talking is priceless. It can be challenging to completely listen to your mate. Usually, thoughts and preoccupations clutter the mind. As an experiment, try listening to your partner and at the same time connect with your breath. This will actually make it possible to be more fully present with your partner in the moment. When we connect with our breath we are connecting with our body. Our bodies can’t be in the future or the past but only in the present moment. When we are in “the now” a sense of well-being often occurs and this can be shared with your significant other.
- Cultivate Loving Kindness. Many times couples feel like their partner is out to get them. They will build cases why this is true. “He ate my last piece of chocolate. He doesn’t love me. He is purposefully ruining my day.” Usually, this is not the case. The other partner does not want to psychologically harm their mate. After all they are in a relationship with the person. To circumvent this type of thinking it is beneficial to cultivate loving kindness to your partner. Loving kindness is when you open your heart to another person and wish that person well. Like nourishing an oak seedling this intention can germinate and grow. It is a reminder that you care for your partner and your partner loves and cares about you. This can be done by telling your partner you love them either orally or even by text message. Or it can be done in a fun way like using the Think Love bracelets. Your bracelets can be synchronized to vibrate at the same time during the day so you and your mate think of each other and love at the same time. If this practice seems hokey or forced in the beginning that is okay keep doing it. Just like an oak tree needs water, relationships need TLC to thrive. Try it and see how your relationship flourishes.
A seated meditation practice is the foundation for all of the relationship techniques listed here. Studies show that individuals that only meditate 5 minutes a day for a few months feel more at ease and less stressed. If you meditate regularly it becomes easier to access your breath during altercations and romantic moments. With practice such methods are woven into everyday life. In our private practices, my husband and I introduce meditation but also other more in depth, specific, easy and effective tools to improve relationships. Modern romantic love definitely has it’s obstacles but with insight these challenges can be overcome one breath at a time. If you have any questions or want to share your mindfulness experiences please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org