Minding Your Relationship
We often talk about mindfulness as if it is a solitary pursuit. The word conjures images of people sitting cross-legged concentrating on their breath. And although meditation is a valid aspect of mindfulness and we have all heard about numerous studies that tout the benefits of this aspect of mindfulness, that is not what I am going to talk about today.
What Is Mindfulness?
Today I want to talk about using mindfulness to improve our relationship and the quality of our connection to our partner. So what exactly is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction defines it as: “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgementally.” Well, how will that help me in my relationship? Don’t worry. I am going to outline a couple simple exercises that will help us begin to figure that out
Let’s look at the central part of that definition: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment. We need to start by paying attention to our partner, on purpose, in the present moment. Perhaps, you are thinking, but I already do that. And if you do, that is great. You are already part way there. But many of us think we are paying attention to our partner when we are really planning what we will have for dinner, looking at our phone, watching TV, replaying what happened in that meeting at work this morning or obsessing about the argument we had last night.
Paying Attention To Your Partner
So already this is getting complicated. I couldn’t possibly pay undivided attention to my partner all the time. I would never get anything done. You are absolutely right. But carving out a few minutes several times a day is certainly doable. How often do we put down our devices, really look at our partner and really listen and hear what they are saying. So it is not about the quantity of attention but the quality of the attention.
What do I mean the quality of the attention? Most of us spend very little time in the present moment. We are running through our to-do list and worrying about how we are going to get it done or we are obsessing about past injuries or wounds. Actually staying in the present is not a simple thing to do. So how do we start? That brings us to our first exercise.
Notice Something New About Your Partner
Set yourself the goal of noticing something new about your partner every day. Even if you have been with your partner for 40 years there is always something new to see. When we get familiar with a person our brain goes on autopilot and we begin to believe that we know everything about this person. But when we look, really look, there is always something new to notice, because no one stays the same for decades. Ellen Langer, who has been researching mindfulness since the early 1970s points out that not only will you find your partner more interesting and attractive but the person who is the object of your mindful attention will find you more authentic and trustworthy and ultimately more attractive. So start noticing!
Gaze Into Your Partner’s Eyes
When we were courting our partner, we probably remember those soul melting moments of gazing into each other’s eyes. With time, those moments often get sacrificed to daily life but they don’t have to. Our second exercise is to find a quiet corner and face your partner from a few feet away sitting comfortably. When you feel relaxed, just gaze softly into each other’s eyes. This is not a staring contest. You can blink or glance away. But as you maintain eye contact with your partner notice what you are feeling. Gazing into a loved one’s eyes can be very powerful. Prolonged mutual gazing releases oxytocin, often referred to as the bonding hormone. We are taking advantage of our biology to deepen our connection with our partner.
Developing A Habit Of Paying Attention To Your Partner
These exercises are only beginning steps to help focus our attention on our relationship and our partner but like any new habit, the more you practice the easier it becomes. Simply focusing on the person we love strengthens our intimacy and attraction and enriches our life and theirs. In conclusion, spending a few minutes a day minding your relationship can over time produce a huge return since the quality of your relationship and your satisfaction with it can increase exponentially.
by Patty Olwell, podcaster, blogger, therapist, meditator
Check out Patty's podcast on using mindfulness to handle stress and anxiety