How mindfulness can improve your relationship
By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility
Romantic relationships have the power to make or break us. By practicing mindfulness we can we rise above the drama, reclaim our love life and reach a deeper sense of connection with not only the one we love, as well as ourselves.
A lot of people believe when we fall in love with ‘the one’, life flows freely, everything miraculously falls into place and we live happily ever-after. I used to be one of them, a true romantic if you like. As a child, I’d dress up as Disney princesses; in my teens, I watched romcoms like Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill so many times I was able to real off the scripts, and, as a student, I’d read and re-read classic novels like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, hoping one day I, too, might meet my very own Mr Darcy, (preferably in a wet white shirt wading out of a lake).
Then one day it happened, I was whisked off my feet and awakened with a kiss by my very own Prince Charming. Okay, so there was no lake or wet shirt, but there were fireworks... It was Bonfire Night. I felt like I was on the big screen living my very own fairy-tale romance.
Gradually, the butterflies in my stomach began to settle as the honeymoon period wore off and we entered what’s often referred to as a mature adult relationship. We no longer showered each other with gifts, made less effort to organise date nights and began bickering about silly, insignificant things. And, at times, we let fear and insecurities lead our reactions, putting us at risk of self-sabotaging all we held dear. That’s when it dawned on me. I was living in fantasy land, holding onto unrealistic expectations, thinking my partner would provide me with the fairy-tale, till-death-do-us-part model. If I wanted a real-life version of the story, I was going to have to make it happen; no magic fairy dust was going to do it for me.
DON’T RISK YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO FATE
It was at this point I came across a study by the University of North Carolina which revealed couples who practised mindfulness were happier in their relationships. It sounded like a pretty easy, hassle-free, inexpensive option and I decided there and then I would use mindfulness as a tool to improve communication with my partner and reclaim the relationship back, instead of leaving it in the hands of fate.
In long-lasting relationships, arguments are pretty much inevitable. In one way they show we care enough about partner – what they think say or do – to get worked up by them. Take the other day for instance, let’s just say I wasn’t very impressed when my partner missed his stop on the last train home, resulting in me having to get up in the middle of the night and drive 20 miles to collect him. At times like this, it can be easy to get caught up in our emotions, the tiredness, frustration and annoyance. We can even become blinded by them to an extent that we fail to realise we do actually have a choice. We can either let little mishaps end in hostile silence, or choose to listen mindfully to our partner and clear the air.
LEARN TO LISTEN MINDFULLY
Here’s how a typical argument tends to unfold. We think we know our partners inside out and tend to make assumptions about what they are thinking or are going to say. Automatically rehearsing our response in our head, we fail to pay attention to the actual words being said. Filtering through their sentences, we ‘selectively’ hear the ones that confirm what we are thinking. With our sights set on a specific outcome, we close ourselves off to any other interpretation that could be made.
Reacting, rather than reflecting, our voices become raised, cutting in with words that pop into our heads, without taking a moment to think about how these words might be interpreted or the potential pain they could inflict. Before we know it, what might have been a minor misunderstanding has spiralled into a full-blown argument, with one or both partners losing sight of what the original conversation was even about. Feeling frustrated, upset and exhausted for not having felt heard or understood, we close up into our shell as a tense uncomfortable silence fills the air.
Although arguments may seem petty or insignificant upon reflection, when this stressful process repeats itself again and again, the hurt and disconnection caused can over time gently chip away at the resolve or feelings towards a relationship, putting it at risk. There is another way. By practicing the art of mindful listening, we can learn to deal with misunderstandings, without turning them into something bigger than they need to be. This gives us a greater understanding of our partner and helps to bring us closer together as a couple.
PUT MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR LOVE LIFE BY FOLLOWING THESE 10 EASY STEPS
When you feel a discussion becoming heated, first become aware of any issues and agendas you might have and acknowledge any bias from your side.
Pay full attention to your partner’s words, their tone of voice, speed at which they are speaking. Remember, too, to notice their body language.
Observe any thoughts that arise, but try not to pass judgement or instantly react on them. Instead refocus your attention towards your partner.
Try not to mentally rehearse how you’re going to respond whilst they’re speaking, but rather give them your full, undivided attention and listen closely.
Once they’ve finished speaking, take a deep breath in and pause. Give yourself time to reflect on what they’ve said before you begin to speak.
Repeat out loud what you understood your partner to have said as this will confirm to both of you that you’re on the same page.
Once clarified, take a moment to think how the most loving, kind and caring version of you would respond. Then talk slowly and calmly, whilst maintaining eye contact.
Avoid using the word ‘I’ during the conversation; replace it instead with words that show a united front such as ‘we’ or ‘us’ or ‘together’.
Try to put the argument into context and constructively look to resolve the issue because it helps to end on a positive note.
Learning to be mindful doesn’t mean you should exercise moral authority over your partner; work with them, don’t see them as being on higher ground.
RECLAIM YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Our relationships are only as good as we make them. We can’t expect an idyllic romance unless we consciously out in the day-to-day effort to make it so. Take charge of your love life by asking yourself the following four questions. As you answer, try to differentiate between reasonable desires and unrealistic wishes.
What do I want from my relationship?
What will having it do for me?
What’s stopping me from having it now?
What do I need to change or put into place to get the relationship where I want it to be?
When I answered these questions I came up with five action steps. Firstly, I wanted to own my role within our relationship. I asked myself how I wanted to treat my partner and what sort of partner to him I wanted to be. I came up with the words ‘loving’, ‘caring’ and ‘supportive’. I wrote these on a note, which I placed on my bedside table, so I would be reminded of them every time I went to bed or woke up in the morning next to him.
Secondly, I didn’t want to depend on my partner to be the sole provider of my happiness; I needed to find it from within. I asked myself what would make me happy, independent of my partner. The answer resulted in me taking a slight career change moving from being editor of a health policy journal to moving into the revitalising world of health and wellbeing.
Thirdly, I needed be honest with myself about what it is I fear – we all have insecurities. I could choose to let these rule my life and potentially sabotage my relationship or be mindfully aware of them, but not let them take over. I made a conscious decision to choose the latter.
Fourthly, I wanted to bring more energy to our relationship. To do this, I got into the habit of asking myself every day when my partner came home from work, what my energy level was on a scale of one to 10. If it was at the lower end, I would find a way to pick it up.
And finally, I wanted to spend more quality time with him. Like most couples our lives revolve around seeing our family and friends, but sometimes we don’t take time for just the two of us. I went to our calendar and scheduled in date nights. This was a great excuse for us to try new things together. We also came up with the idea of keeping one weekend a month commitment free.
As relationships are a two way street, ask your partner for their input about how they might like the relationship to be and, together, find a way to make it a reality. By cultivating a mindful connection and reclaiming ownership of your relationship, you have the power to write your own love story – one that stands the test of time.
• Article published in Breathe magazine, p66-67, Issue 5