Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)
Part III. DECLUTTERING YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Relationship Strategy #3: Mindfulness with Your Partner
The two previous strategies we’ve discussed apply to any relationship in your life. But your intimate love relationship stands apart as one that deserves special attention.
With your spouse or romantic partner, you have the opportunity for tremendous emotional and personal growth, especially if you view your partner as someone who is in your life to teach you something. It’s through this relationship that you can learn to be more present and compassionate.
Ironically, our love relationships tend to present us with the biggest challenges in our lives, causing the most “mental clutter” and distress. Practicing mindfulness in your love relationship gives you a tool for strengthening your intimate connection while reducing stress and angst in your life.
Mindfulness expert and Professor of Medicine Emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment with intention, while letting go of judgment.
This practice might seem impossible in the heat of an argument when you just want to lash out at your partner. But with practice, mindfulness increases our awareness of what we are experiencing with our partners, and allows us the space to determine how we want to act (and react) with them.
When you’re able to bypass emotional reactions with your spouse or partner, you feel more centered, calm, and capable of resolving issues in a loving manner. This ability alone can save you from days and even years of mental and emotional distress that depletes your emotional energy.
“Mindfulness isn’t about denying or burying our emotions,” says psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Firestone in an article for Psychology Today . “It’s simply about cultivating a different relationship to our feelings and experiences, in which we are in the driver’s seat. We can see our feelings and thoughts like a passing train roaring through the station, but we alone choose if we want to get on board.”
Choosing not to get on board is the beginning of a conscious relationship that promotes healing and intimacy rather than discord and divisiveness. Here are some simple actions you can take to become more present in your marriage or love relationship:
Make the commitment.
With the awareness that mindfulness will improve the quality of your connection with your partner, commit yourself to practicing this habit on a daily basis.
If you’ve spent years in an unconscious relationship in which you and your partner are reactive, it will take some time to retrain yourself to interact differently. But if you’re motivated to grow in your relationship and reduce stress in your life, you can change.
This is the most important relationship in your life, and it impacts your mental health and your outlook on everything. Commit to this one practice in your relationship, and you’ll see an improvement in all areas of your life.
Put a note in a place you will see it first thing in the morning to remind you to be present with your spouse when you interact. You may need reminders in several places in the house when you begin this practice.
Communicate your commitment.
Your decision to be more mindful with your partner isn’t predicated by your partner’s mutual commitment—but it certainly helps.
Sit down with your spouse when you can talk without interruption and let him or her know about your new plan. You might say something like, “I’ve decided I want to be more present and compassionate in my relationship with you. It will make us closer and will help us resolve our differences without as much anger or hurt. I’ve made a commitment to this, and I’d like it if you’d commit to it as well.”
Your spouse may wonder exactly what this means, and this leads to the other actions in this chapter that you can practice.
Be emotionally present.
Being emotionally present means being fully attuned to your partner in conversation. If your partner is in pain, it means remaining emotionally open to the pain, and showing empathy.
It also means paying attention to your partner’s body language and reflecting it back, as well as using eye contact, gentle touch, and nodding to show you hear your partner.
It generally doesn’t mean offering suggestions or ways to “fix” a situation unless your partner asks for that. In fact, we block our innate ability for emotional presence when we try to do something “more” for our partner. Attuned presence allows your partner to feel less alone with his or her feelings.
This kind of emotional resonance with your spouse leads to more intimacy, trust, and security in your relationship.
Listen without defensiveness.
When you and your partner have a conflict or emotionally charged conversation, presence means you listen without preparing your response or defense.
Be aware of your own reactive emotions, name them, and recognize that they have been triggered, but don’t act on them. Try to pull your attention back to your partner’s words, and acknowledge that your partner’s feelings are as important as your own.
Reflect back to your partner.
The willingness to reflect back to your partner the words you hear from them shows that you are actively listening. It also reinforces for your spouse that you care enough to seek to fully understand what that are saying to you.
Reflecting back isn’t simply parroting what your partner says. It’s a way of confirming that what you heard is actually what your partner meant. It opens dialog for clarification and invites discussion about mutual resolution and understanding.
This is a highly valuable mindfulness technique during times of conflict, hurt feelings, or misunderstandings.
Being present with your partner is a mature relationship skill. It means you can’t respond or react in childlike ways, using passive-aggressive words or behaviors like eye rolling, the silent treatment, or sulking. Throwing tantrums or having angry outbursts always prevents open, authentic communication.
When you have an issue with your spouse, rather than taking a jab at them or making a disparaging comment, turn back to the practice of mindfulness. Pay attention to your emotions and wait until you are calm and less defensive before initiating a conversation.
Share the issue without blame or criticism. State your perception of the issue, how it made you feel, and what you need from your partner in order to restore your connection. Listen to your partner’s response and perspective without defensiveness.
Look for lessons within conflict.
We mentioned earlier that your love relationship is the laboratory for personal growth if you pay attention. Conflict is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it provides the perfect opportunity for learning.
Rather than stewing in your angry juices after a conflict, ask yourself these questions:
· Is it possible that I’m not entirely right?
· Is my partner’s perspective valid to some extent?
· Am I being the person I want to be with my partner?
· What have I learned from this conflict?
· What is the deeper issue triggering my reactions?
· How are my wounded feelings getting in the way of my growth?
· How do I want to change as a result of this interaction?
Your answers to these questions will foster healing and self-awareness, and allow you to break free from the inner critic who keeps you agitated and angry.
Spend quality time with your partner without distraction.
One of the most valuable things you can do for the health of your relationship is to spend quality time with your partner. This is time when you are both relaxed and engaged without the pressures of work, children, or conflict.
Busy couples often have to schedule this time because life is so hectic and demanding. If that’s the case for you, make a point to arrange a regular date or even 30 minutes of daily quiet time with your spouse where you can talk and reconnect.
The more emotional intimacy you share with your partner, the more you insulate your relationship from the conflicts that create suffering for you both. Putting in this effort is an investment in your peace of mind and mental clarity.