Mindfulness in relationships
Falling in love is easy, staying in love, that’s the real work
I’m sure flying a plane is difficult, but with the proper training, the right number of logged hours and suitable accreditation, you would make a fine pilot one day. Similarly, learning to cook is tricky, but with YouTube and an endless supply of recipes on Recipe.com and trying again if it all fails — you’re bound to make something quite edible. But who teaches us how to love? it’s not on the high school curriculum and there are no tutors that I’m aware of that specialise in teaching humans how to function optimally in a relationship. For the vast majority of us — being in a relationship is tough work.
For many of us our ideas of love and relationships are formed from a young age, what we observe in our environment; namely our parents or guardians, to when we mature and begin to read novels and catch a glimpse of The Notebook. We see people around us talk about their feelings, emotions, hope and dreams and we start to dream that maybe some day we too might experience something similar. Our ideas mix with our delusions and get stirred by our beliefs to concoct a recipe of an ideal relationship with an ideal partner. An idea many of us again, rarely shake.
I want to be in a relationship where you telling me you love me is just a ceremonious validation of what you already show me. — Steve Maraboli
It’s no wonder that so many relationships fail after the ‘honeymoon’ period ends. We tell ourselves that we’re fallen ‘out’ of love. We go from texting daily to avoiding their calls to pick up milk on the way home. What once turned us on about our partners now annoys us beyond belief.
But the ‘honeymoon’ period of any relationship is purely a heightened state of Mindfulness. Mindfulness being our capacity to be in the present moment with a sense of curiosity and compassion. And we all remember those honeymoon periods, you start off by wanting to spend as much time with you partner as possible, you look for ways in which you can learn more about them; ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ ‘what movie made you cry?’ ‘have you even seen The Notebook?’ You wait patiently for their answers and try to offer them your full curiosity. The partner is enamoured by this attention, ‘he/she is always so interested in me’ they might remark. Then something happens, perhaps they forgot it’s date night or they misplaced their keys, you compassionately offer them your support and laugh it off, ‘Oh he’s so forgetful, lol’ You’re genuinely interested in your partner, you’re present to them and you’re compassionate and understanding of them.
Mindfulness is a basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It’s not something woo-woo that you have to spend hours researching or travel to a far away land to find. It’s available to you, and your partner right now.
So how can living a more mindful life help you cultivate a greater relationship?
Your first relationship is to yourself.
“Your relationship to yourself is and always will be directly reflected in all your relationships with others.” Vironika Tugaleva
First ask yourself, am I in this relationship because I’m scared to be alone? In many spiritual texts, the first teachings are about the nature of our most important relationship — our self. We are asked to listen, be patient and understand our own thoughts, habits and tendencies so we can find compassion for the parts of ourselves we might not like so much. Loneliness, anger, fear, jealousy — they tend to exist in all of us, some have a handle on this, some of us don’t. Having a truly meaningful relationship depends on our capacity to be alone and ok, with ourselves. A mindful person recognises when they are ‘clinging’ to their partner out of a sense of lack. We can then detach from this unhealthy thought and develop more clarity from awareness around our tendencies. We can’t change what we can’t see, so becoming more self-aware is vitally important.
2. Be present.
“If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence” Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a no-brainer. How can we relate to ourselves and our partners if we are not even there? And you know what I’m talking about, Susan. Scrolling through snapchat when your partner asks how your day was or watching the football when your partner asks for the third time to take the rubbish out isn’t being present. It’s being absent. Relationships can’t flourish with absence, they flourish when we are there for our partners. Resolve to put your phones down when you go out to dinner and spend a designated time, morning or night or both(!) being fully present to your partner.
3. Listen, for no other reason than to listen.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey
We are hard-wired to look for problems. To fix things. But sometimes we ourselves don’t need someone to fix our problems, just someone to hear them. Listening to our partners is a powerful exercise in presence and love. When we listen we open up our capacity to understand. And truly meaningful relationships prosper when we understand each other, our hopes, our fears, our stresses and our triggers. When we listen deeply we can see not only what they are communicating through their words, but also their eyes and body.Mindful listening opens us up to a much deeper level of connection.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia
Compassion or Karuna in the Pali language is the capacity each of us have to not only empathise with another person but to genuinely help them ‘suffer’ less. It’s born out of listening and understanding. It’s our capacity to help our partner hurt less after a long day at work or after something has gone wrong. It’s also our capacity to understand they are a human, not just a body that you co-exist with. A human that also experiences fear, hope, anxiety and overwhelm, just like you do. Seeing your partner as a human can dramatically change the nature of a relationship, because we see in them what we see in us.An imperfectly perfect human trying to do the best they can with what they have. Someone that makes mistakes when they are scared, confused or tired. Through this lens of compassion, we better understand our selves, and each other.
5. This too shall pass.
“Life’s impermanence, I realised, is what makes every single day so precious. It’s what shapes our time here. It’s what makes it so important than not a single moment be wasted.” Wes Moore.
Far from looking at impermanence (the nature of all things to eventually end) as a gloomy topic, it can actually be the most liberating. This for me has been the most transformative practice in my relationship. Knowing our time with our partners is in one-way or another limited means we don’t have to always get caught up in the little stresses of our life. An argument over the toilet seat left up or the fact that she’s always buying new cushions. Accepting that our time together will eventually come to end gives us a freedom to to experience our days like our partners with a sense of genuine love and gratitude.
The reality is all our time is limited. We can choose to spend it caught up in our minds or we can choose to live a life filled with what really matters.
A mindful life allows us to be fully present to what surrounds us, the people and the experiences all while we manage the ups and downs of life with a genuine sense of calm, compassion and clarity.