Are you present in your relationships? Using mindfulness in relationships

Are you present in your relationships? To help answer this question, reflect on the following statements and answer with a "yes" or "no." It may be most helpful to consider your most important and/or closest relationships one at a time:

  • At times, I tune out my partner/loved one when they are speaking to me.
  • I often think I know what my partner/loved one is going to say.
  • I know what my partner/loved one is feeling or thinking, without them even telling me.
  • I feel disconnected from my partner/loved one.
  • At times, I don't understand what my partner/loved one is trying to say.
  • I rarely feel present with my partner/loved one.
  • I rarely engage in activities with my partner/loved one in which we are both fully participating.

If you answered "yes" to any of the statements above know you're not alone, however you and your relationship can likely benefit from some mindfulness practice. Increasing mindfulness in your relationship can result in increased relationship satisfaction, increased ability to work toward mutual goals, more effective communication, and increased trust and connection in the relationship.

Using mindfulness in your relationships

Mindfulness is a skill I discuss and encourage often (read my other blogs on mindfulness here). One of my favorite summaries of mindfulness is this:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” -- Jon Kabat-Zinn*

Similar to individual mindfulness practice, mindfulness in relationships involves three components: 1) Acting intentionally, 2) Staying in the present moment, and 3) Maintaining a non-judgmental perspective.

So how can these three mindfulness components be applied to relationships? Here are some suggestions:

Schedule time to connect. Intentionally plan to connect with your partner or loved one. Engage in an activity, attend an event, or share a mutual experience together that both of you find interesting. It is important that both of you are interested in whatever your means of connection is, as you both are more likely to fully participate in the experience - a key factor in mindfulness. Fully participating means really losing yourself in the experience to the point where you're not distracted by other thoughts or feel self-conscious.  You can think of this as "being in a groove," or "flow." Also, time may feel like it passes quickly when you're fully participating. Some examples may be: Observing and discussing artwork. Playing a sport or board game. Enjoying an elaborate meal. Going for a walk. Discussing a book or movie.

Actively listen. Stay present with the other person by intentionally focusing on what they are saying and how they are saying it. It is a common pattern to "tune out" a loved one - we are physically present, yet we stop actively listening, we avoid eye-contact, we give minimal non-verbal feedback, and/or we become quiet. Sometimes we tune out others so that a disagreement does not escalate to an argument;  because we assume we know where they are taking the conversation; or because we get caught up in our own thoughts, feelings, or what we're planning to say next. If you find your mind wandering while the other person is talking, bring your attention and focus back to them. Face the other person, make eye contact, and give non-verbal (e.g., nodding) and verbal feedback (e.g., saying "uh huh" or "go on").

 
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Validate the other's perspective. In our most intimate relationships, we often make assumptions as to what the other person is thinking, feeling, or even saying. These assumptions are often unintentional and occur because we feel so connected to the other person that our brains automatically start connecting the dots that we think exist. Building upon the previous skill of actively listening to what the other person is saying, we must also take a non-judgmental stance toward the other person. We are human, we are not mind-readers - we do not know what the other person is thinking or feeling. We must non-judgmentally listen to what the other is saying, so that we can do our best to understand their perspective, not our take on their perspective. You can validate the other's perspective by restating what you heard them say. Learn more about validation here.

Reflection questions

  • How can you be more mindful in your relationships today?
  • When can you plan a time to connect with your partner or loved one?
  • Is there a particular relationship that needs tending to?

Best,

Chelsea

*Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the most recognized teachers of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He teaches mindfulness meditation as a technique to help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain and illness.

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