06 Jan How Mindfulness Can Help Your Relationship
By Naomi B. Rather, LCMHC
Much has been written about mindfulness and its importance in overall health, and yet it can feel out of reach for many of us.
Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention, on purpose to what we are experiencing inside of us, from moment to moment, without judgment. It is less about thinking, and more about noticing what is happening in our bodies as we move through our lives.
At first glance it seems that this would be easy, but most of us are taught or conditioned to ignore the signals our bodies provide. The good news is that the signals are there and we can learn to read them. And the better news is that our relationships are the perfect places to learn about mindfulness, and to also benefit from its practice.
For example, if I bring mindfulness to an interaction with my partner during which he approaches me, shaking his head and saying the words: “You never…..” my body will let me know—-because my stomach tightens, my jaw clenches and I hold my breath— that I am braced for an attack. Without mindfulness, I have no awareness of my body’s signals. Before my partner has uttered a word, I am triggered—preparing not only my defense, but also my counter-attack.
If he says “You never put things back after you borrow them, and I have to go looking for my tools when I need them,” I will be quick to remind him of all of the times I have put things back, or perhaps I’ll deflect my discourteous behavior by pointing out his annoying habits. Things could escalate, and we could walk away from each other feeling unheard, disrespected and disheartened.
But using mindfulness allows me time and space to respond instead of react. I can take a deep breath and soften my stomach muscles and my facial expression. I can tell myself “Wow, I am really preparing for battle here…..what am I telling myself about him right now? What meaning am I assigning to his actions? What could happen if instead I brought empathy and curiosity to his position?
If I can stay completely present in the moment when he says those words, I will hear something very different than an attack. I will hear a request—or perhaps even a longing—for respect and acknowledgement. And as someone who also wants these things, I can feel a connection.
Learning to hold ourselves accountable, and to offer sincere apologies are skills that can come later. Starting with mindfulness allows us a chance to change the triggered responses that are so detrimental to loving interactions.