Wondering how to build lasting, meaningful relationships in this chaotic fast-paced world where everything seems to slip right by us? Strange as it may sound, an age-old, Buddhist spiritual concept – mindfulness – may be the answer to the problems of modern love. Mindfulness is awareness without judgment. Mindfulness in relationships would, thus, allow you to listen, be aware, and empathize with your partner’s needs and demands without jumping to conclusions first.
In simplest terms, mindfulness is being aware of the present moment. You focus and acknowledge your present thoughts, feelings and sensations, without trying to judge or interpret them. The benefits of mindfulness for mental health have been much elaborated upon. Author and corporate trainer Murli Menon says, “Just like a diya (an earthen lamp) protected from strong winds by a cupped palm does not flicker, mindfulness helps one remain steady like that flame.”
Basically, it lets you feel all, acknowledge all – and not be hasty with your judgments. And perhaps that is a concept that can be of much help when it is applied to relationships. It is a natural progression, therefore, to deduce that mindfulness improves relationships, too. But how exactly does it achieve that? To understand, we need to first delve deeper into the idea of mindfulness itself.
Mindfulness And Buddhism
How is mindfulness linked to Buddhism? If you are aware of your thoughts, feelings, actions, body and mind in the present moment, you will realize that all things are transient. This will make you let go of these temporary things (shed attachment) and thereby free yourself from suffering.
According to mindfulness meditation coach and past life regression therapist Ririi Trivedi, “Buddhism is all about compassionate living. And, mindfulness helps us become compassionate toward ourselves and others. It teaches us to be non-judgemental.”
The basic idea is to become fully observant of one’s present situation and immediate surroundings so one reaches a state of complete awareness of one’s self, surroundings, and the people present in those surroundings. But the awareness must be achieved without the occurrence of judgment.
So, the concept of mindfulness in Buddhism is about reaching a state of complete understanding without tainting said understanding with one’s own subjective views or judgment.
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One might wonder what such an intrinsically spiritual concept would have to do with modern-day relationships. Sure, we use other such terms like zen mode and nirvana rather flippantly. But that does not mean they do not have an immediate effect on our being and our daily dealings with our surroundings and people we share personal and professional lives with.
When we are mindful of our present scenario, wouldn’t that mean that we would be able to easily slip into the shoes of the person in front of us, so we may truly listen, understand, and empathize without getting defensive? Mindfulness in relationships would, thus, let us understand our partner’s needs, wants, and desires better, even in situations where we would be otherwise tempted to get defensive.
In the end, mindfulness in relationships would let us deepen our bond with our partner through the sheer powers of empathy and understanding. Mindfulness in relationships, thus, helps improve and strengthen bonds. But how exactly does it do that?
How Does Mindfulness Improve Relationships?
Mindfulness as a concept encourages deeper understanding and empathy. It is supposed to let you understand the true purpose, reasons, and rationales behind the actions and words of people around us. And it lets you do it all without judgment so you are able to empathize and understand instead of wanting to argue and getting defensive and tainting the actual events with your own opinions and subjectivity.
Imagine applying the benefits of mindfulness in relationships. “Relationship problems arise because individuals are operating out of their past experiences and patterns formed in childhood. These influences present perceptions, beliefs, fears and insecurities. In short, we react in the present, based on the past. Our past baggage may be making our relationship with our partner dysfunctional. Mindfulness helps us become aware of this and stay in the present,” explains Ririi.
A 2004 study titled Mindfulness-based Relationship Enhancement, published in Behavior Therapy found that mindfulness increases relationship satisfaction and closeness, helps partners to accept one another and reduces relationship stress. So, mindfulness in relationships lets you be truly aware of the immediate present and prevents your opinions and experiences of the past from influencing your perception of said events.
For example, if you are someone who has been cheated on before, your usual perception of your partner’s actions will be influenced by a level of suspicion. So, when they keep staying late at the office because of deadlines and hang out with you less and less, your mind will usually be ready to go, “Aha! I knew it! They are cheating on me!”
But, when you practice mindful relationship habits, you will instead look at the situation and truly try to understand what’s happening instead of coming to a judgment first. Maybe they are working overtime to provide better for the family. Or maybe there is a promotion that can jumpstart their career.
If you still feel you are not fully aware of or can’t explain what’s happening, mindfulness in marriage and relationships will keep you from acting on your suspicions and arriving at strange assumptions. So, you can actually communicate with your partner about the situation and your feelings without arriving at the worst possible conclusion first.
If you do not practice mindful relationship habits, you would be prone to turn such conversations into arguments instead and your partner will get tired of the suspicion at some point, leading to a weakening of the bond you two share. You can also love better with mindfulness in relationships since it lets you truly appreciate your partner and everything they do for you.
The state of awareness without judgment you reach when you combine mindfulness and love allows you to read your partner’s moods and needs better. So, you get the chance to be more compassionate toward them and tend to their needs better. If your partner is in a foul mood, mindfulness in relationships would allow you to reflect on your own actions and judge whether you were in the wrong so you can apologize and make it up to them without the situation ever escalating.
In fact, the combination of mindfulness and love can make you so intuitive that it can turn into pretty much a superpower that allows you to be kind and empathetic no matter the situation. The benefits of mindfulness in relationships are, thus, plenty. And this can obviously leave you wondering, “How can I practice mindfulness in relationships?”
Using Mindfulness To Enhance Relationships
While love is so often seen as essential to life as breathing, circumstances and lack of time lead to us becoming careless about how we express ourselves to our partners. Mindfulness in romantic relationships helps to change our perspective and communicate better, thus making for a happier, more harmonious relationship. But, due to the stress of life in general, we often tend to ignore the range of benefits of mindfulness in relationships.
And, even if you do want to practice it, it may be easier said than done, especially if you don’t know where to start. If you are willing to love better with mindfulness in relationships, it is important to start slow. Start with some self-reflection. How are you as a partner? Are you mindful of the present, aware of your loved ones’ needs? If not, where are you falling short? And how has that been affecting your personal relationships?
Once you are more aware of your own being and failings, it is time to start practicing mindful relationship habits. If you’re still wondering what we’re talking about, here are some tips on using mindfulness to enhance relationships.
1. Connecting better
Removing distractions is one of the vital mindfulness activities for couples trying to incorporate this practice in their relationships. To engage with your partner mindfully, you need to put aside your gadgets (mobile phones and laptops), switch off the television, shut the book you are reading, and focus solely on them.
You must listen keenly to what he or she is saying. You can also practice active listening by asking questions. Of course, a couple can connect even in amicable silence. But, when your partner is trying to communicate with you, it is important to practice the art of listening without feeling the need to judge, state one’s opinions, and offer unwarranted advice.
When you truly listen to your partner, even when they are silent or engaged in doing something else, you will know how they are feeling and would be able to act accordingly. This will help you make your connection deeper and stronger.
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2. Making eye contact
Can mindfulness improve relationships? Yes, indeed, and with small, everyday practices such as making eye contact. When you are mindfully engaging with your partner you tend to make eye contact. This shows interest in your partner and what he or she is saying. Your partner will feel valued.
This is also why it is important to practice mindfulness for relationship anxiety. If your partner is prone to feeling insecure or suspicious, your complete mindful focus on them – coupled with the eye contact – will help put those beastly fears to rest. Couples that practice mindfulness in relationships can feel connected to one another even across a room full of other people with something as simple as meaningful eye contact.
Also, they do say that eyes are the mirrors of the soul. Society has made us all inherently believe that people who do not maintain eye contact have something to hide. So, the art of speaking, communicating, and even flirting with your eyes is something you should definitely practice. Simply maintaining eye contact with your partner can help reassure them about your honesty and show them that not only are you listening to them but you also have nothing to hide from them.
3. Speaking mindfully
Mindfulness in romantic relationships means having mindful conversations. This takes place only when partners are open-minded and accepting of each other’s points of view. Also, if you are mindful, you think before you speak and are able to put across your thoughts and views clearly and rationally.
Practicing mindfulness in relationships means that you would have to be open to listening to the person in front of you without jumping at the first chance to get defensive, even when they are accusing you of something. Even arguments turn healthy when you are willing to listen.
When your partner is aware that you are always willing to listen and will not judge them, they will find it easier to be more open, communicative, and vulnerable in front of you. Couples who practice mindfulness are, thus, more open with each other and find it easier to state and meet each other’s needs, wants, and desires.
4. Diffusing tension
Mindfulness enables us to ‘respond’ instead of ‘reacting’ during an argument, according to Ririi. When we react it is often in anger or with some other strong emotion. “Mindfulness gives us time to choose our response. We are more careful about our words and actions thereby causing minimum damage to the relationship,” she says.
In other words, you are far more thoughtful and considerate and can steer clear of saying or doing things that could ruin your relationship. Practicing mindfulness is basically like taking time out before deciding to form an opinion on a matter. It allows you to slow down and truly focus on what is being said without feeling the need to defend yourself or counter it with your own opinion.
Mindfulness for relationship anxiety allows your partner to understand that not only are you listening but you are willing to put yourself in their shoes even in situations where it is not too comfortable for you. Once your partner feels that their feelings have been acknowledged, they are more likely to openly and calmly discuss the matter with you without feeling the need to yell or create tension.
5. Feeling thankful
When you focus on the present, you will appreciate the small things that your partner does that make you happy. Whether it is the hot cup of green tea or that shoulder massage, feel thankful for those moments and voice your appreciation. After all, mindfulness in intimate relationships is all about small gestures.
6. Practising compassion
Mindfulness teaches us to practice compassion toward ourselves as well as others. Instead of judging your partner, look at him or her with compassion and empathy. You will find yourself focusing on the positives. Reality slows down when you are mindful. Suddenly, you start feeling like you can see everything in the minutest detail.
Someone who sees it all is more likely to be aware of the reasons behind their partner’s words, actions, and reactions. So, even in tense situations, mindfulness can let you put yourself in their shoes. And, the moment you understand and start feeling what your partner is feeling, you will be more likely to show compassion even in the face of their anger and accusations.
7. Touching mindfully
Physical touch is so important to mindfulness in a romantic relationship. When you meet after an exhausting day at work, a wordless hug is very relaxing. Holding hands (consciously and intentionally) while on a walk or while talking will make you feel closer to your partner.
It doesn’t need to be sexual, non-sexual touching can be just as intimate. Platonic, comforting touches can serve as wordless reminders. A single touch can tell your partner that you are there. Even when the day has been terrible to them, you are still waiting at the end of it. It reminds them that you are partners and that you will tackle all of life’s problems and challenges together. That they are not alone. That you understand, empathize with, and support them no matter what happens.
8. Breathing or meditating together
You can sit down with your partner and practice mindful breathing – where you slowly inhale and exhale. This is a great stressbuster. You can also practice mindfulness meditation together. This is one of the best mindfulness activities for couples to engage in. Communication is important in relationships. But being able to share golden silences is just as important.
Practicing breathing exercises and meditating together can let you bask in the silence even while attempting to achieve a shared zen mode. It can make you feel connected while the tempest of life rages around you – as if no matter what happens, nothing can burst the protective bubble that you have built around you two with the power of mindfulness, mutual respect, and empathy.
9. Bonding exercises
According to Murli, techniques such as clapping in unison, synchronized prayers at home, auto-suggestions and affirmations where both partners chant together, and joint physical exercises while listening to soothing Zen music can help a couple bond better.
If you’re wondering how your relationships would be different if you practiced mindfulness, these gestures and practices are your answer. All in all, mindfulness in romantic relationships can enhance your bond with your partner as it teaches you to be aware, non-judgmental and non-reactive.