Mindfulness is defined as present moment non-judgmental awareness. Generally mindfulness skills are taught to individuals to help individual problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, impulsive habits, and other medical conditions. Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to have many positive effects. It is discussed frequently in current news reports, and most people have some idea what mindfulness is or wonders if meditation might help them. However, a lesser know fact is that learning mindfulness can also help your intimate relationships.
Individual Mindfulness to help your Relationship
Of course simply reducing your own stress level can help your relationship. We all know the ease enjoying our partner is much increased when we are not feeling stress. However, there are several ways individual mindfulness may help your relationship beyond the obvious. First, mindfulness practice teaches you to become more aware of your own thoughts an emotions as they arise. Our intimate partners can trigger an emotional reaction that we later regret more easily than anyone else. As you become more mindful you may be able to observe these emotional responses as they arise and make a decision about how to respond. Additionally, common mindfulness practices can be applied to relationships.
- Savoring – Savoring is the practice of being mindful of positive experiences. In long term relationships the positive experiences with one another are often found in small everyday interactions. Good feelings towards your partner are usually deeper but more subtle than the big, overwhelming emotions of a new love. Try using savoring of positive experiences such as the time of day when you partner always remembers to bring you coffee or simple physical touch.
- Gratitude – The idea of making a gratitude list is often taught along with other mindfulness skills. Simply making a list of the things we are grateful for helps to balance out our brain’s natural tendency to focus on negatives more than positives. This effect of remember the bad and forgetting the good definitely applies to long term relationships. Try listing all the reasons you are grateful for your partner.
- Compassion – Loving-kindness meditation (also called compassion meditation) is a common mindfulness practice. By repeating phrases describing kind wishes towards ourselves and others we can grow our capacity for empathy and compassion like a muscle. Compassion can be defined as kindness in response to another’s sorrow or stress. Building compassion skills and the ability to stay with and hold the difficult emotions of yourself and others can greatly improve intimate relationships. Our life partner is often the primary witness for our lives. An increase our ability to hold one another with compassion during painful and stressful times grows our bond.
Practicing Mindfulness Together
Practicing meditation together in the same space can be an intimacy building activity. There are also interactive meditation practices that can be done together by focusing on the breathing of yourself and the other person, using silent eye contact, and attending to the felt sense of connection or disconnection as it flows and changes. However, many will find the informal practice of simply being together without having to say anything or do anything for a few minutes a day deeply connecting and restful.
Finally, there are several ways to describe how to apply mindfulness skills when communicating with another person.
- Waiting to speak and speaking slowly – With mindfulness conversations about important topic can be easier and everyday interactions can go deeper. This involves letting go of your own thoughts, judgments, and analyzing while the other speaks. Also, try only listening rather than trying to fix problems or change uncomfortable emotions. Pause when another is done speaking taking a moment to relax your mind and body and attend to your present experience of connection with the other. Then when you speak do so slowly enough to stay connected to your body and heart.
- Embodied listening – This is the practice of listening from the neck down. Attempt to feel in your body what the speaker is saying as well as listening with your eyes and ears.
- Three objects of awareness – When you listen to another person try to keep your attention on (1) Your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings (2) Your partner’s words, body language, and facial expressions (3) Your felt sense of connection and disconnection with your partner.
For more on building intimacy with mindfulness, including in person training and coaching, consider couples counseling with a therapist trained in mindfulness.
References: The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD and Mindfulness and Psychotherapy edited by Germer, Siegel, and Fulton