“relationship itself gives meaning to life” -Jon Kabat-Zinn
life is difficult; it’s fast-paced and driven, full of family, relationship and work stressors. This living, along with the ever-increasing pressures of keeping up with evolving digital technology and society, can really take a powerful toll on your couple relationship.
Mindfulness can help!
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from practicing mindfulness in your couple relationship. Mindfulness allows you to become more present to everything in your life, and this can include your partner’s life, too.
Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote about mindfulness in his book Full Catastrophe Living and he created what are now known as The 7 Pillars of Mindfulness. They are
- Beginner’s mind
- Letting go
How might these apply to our couple relationships?
- Non-judging. The traffic in our minds that we get caught up in is largely characterised by degrees of categorising, evaluating, scoring and comparing. We often believe that we have an objective hold on what’s happening, yet most of our judging is deeply subjective. This projects out into our relationship: we judge our partners, ironically often silently measuring them against our own self-criticism. We do this in our relationship by reacting when our partners don’t make us feel good (as if that was their job!) and hence make us feel bad. Yet often in couple relationships if we stand back and begin to watch our mind with a degree of impartiality, we step out of automatic pilot, our judgments fade and we make closer couple connections.
- We’re running all the time, from one email, one task, one job to another; we often skim like a stone through life, desperate to get the next big thing done until we collapse in fatigue. The stress that this visits upon us can be expressed in an angry, intolerant, impatient tone. Who receives this most? Our partners. How much better might it be to simply give our partners-and ourselves- space to breathe and be, allowing them to come to their own conclusions in their own time. This-essentially-compassionate gesture can infuse the couple relationship with calm.
- Beginners mind. You have been in this couple relationship for 10, 20 years, you might think you know everything about your partner. Meet them again, as if for the first time. What is about them that you are curious about? Perhaps there is still so much to get to know about them (as there is with you). Cultivating a Beginners Mind approach encourages us to see and relate to our partners afresh, not with the screen of our relational history.
- Cultivating a sense of trust in your own experiencing is a foundational part of mindfulness training. Trusting your partner is a product of relational mindfulness that allows you to see deeper into them, recognising and appreciating their inner goodness; but you can only do this if you are aligned to your own experiencing, that is you trust yourself first.
- Non-striving. You have to put in the work to make the relationship work is a very basic truism, but at the same time we also need to let a relationship configure its own shape, almost as if the relationship itself were our teacher and guide, rather than two hard working egos who want to get their own way. Asking ourselves this basic question: what if we both took our feet off the pedals and let the relationship tell us which way to go? Or What does the relationship need right now? This deeply reframes the perspective in the relationship into kind of reciprocal mindfulness where the couple relationship unfolds and evolves without so much stress.
- It’s difficult not to assume this is the same as non-judgment, and it certainly has some similarities. Yet we often get into a situation into our couple relationships where comparisons become quite invidious; why is my partner of 30 years not so slim anymore (or why am I not!) and become locked into a kind of denial off what is, distorting our very view of reality. Acceptance allows us to see more clearly what is, and frees us from experiencing our partner with a lens of criticism.
- Letting go. It’s true that we get caught up in our thinking and our feeling, caught up in future anxiety and past resentments. Letting go allows a relationship to become less Velcro and more Teflon for past conflicts; in this relational mindfulness we then meet each other here and now, as we are, rather than getting snared up in our stories.