1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
"their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition"
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Relationships are the cornerstone of a good life both emotionally and physically. Relationships (for this article) don’t only mean between two people that are connected by blood or marriage, but are also interactions between two or more people in any setting. We may have a relationship with members of our community, co-workers or people we worship with. So when I refer to relationships it can be with anyone we encounter and how we talk, behave or deal with each other.
It’s been highly reported that being in satisfying relationships lead to a happier life with fewer health problems as well as reduced depression and cognitive decline. So you can deduce that being involved in relationships that are unsatisfying or negative can lead to negative health effects and poor daily outcomes.
So, now lets talk about relationships and mindfulness.
To be sure you understand mindfulness – “mindfulness” means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Research on mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and at the Harvard Medical School shows that the majority of people who attend an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course reported lasting improvement in both physical and psychological symptoms from conditions such as heart disease, migraine headaches, some auto-immune diseases, obsessive thinking, anxiety, depression, and hostility. They also report an increased ability to relax, greater energy and enthusiasm for life, improved confidence and self-esteem, and more effective coping with both short-term and long-term stress.
Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts focus on what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than bringing up the past or forecasting into the future.
Here’s a closer look at mindfulness in a relationship:
A typical conversation between a couple may involve one partner remarking, “You used to want to go out every weekend. You used to enjoy going hiking on a moments notice.” This may spark a defensive response in the other partner: “What? You’re saying I don’t want to go out and have fun anymore? You think I’m boring? Well look at you? The only thing you want to do is stare at your phone and play games on it! You seem happy just sitting on the couch!” This type of angry and accusatory response tends to have a snowball effect. “I never said you didn’t want to go out any more, and now you’re saying I just want to play on my phone? I’m constantly working to make you happy. You’re so ungrateful.”
Couples tend to play off each other in the heat of the dialog. In that intense angry state, their resentments toward each other start to flow. At this point, their higher functioning brains are offline and the emotional centers are flying out. Strong, exaggerated, hostile statements are erupting. Yet, if either could be more mindful in the interaction, they would take pause before responding. Before reacting, slow down. They could notice what is happening and that they are being triggered. In a mindfulness state they can choose to do something else. Before reacting, listen intently to what your partner is saying. Imagine your partner’s emotions. Listen to the words. Fight being triggered and just reacting. You might need to take a break. This may mean taking a few deep breaths or going for a walk so you don’t become engaged in the angry fight.
The next time you find yourself in a more un-mindful moment (blaming, criticizing, judging) with someone, simply take a breath, observe your body and ask yourself the following questions:
Philip Moffet, who founded the Life Balance Institute, stated the following about Mindfulness and Relationships;
1. Begin your exploration of relationship with making an inventory of how “related” you feel to others in various situations in your daily life. Then cultivate a modest aspiration to deepen your feelings of relatedness. Avoid falling into cultural clichés around what different kinds of relationships are supposed to look like. Relatedness is an inner felt experience that you know in your heart and in your body.
2. Become interested in the nature of your friendships. Be honest with yourself. Are they friendships of convenience, mutual advantage, or circumstance? If so, how does that feel? Can you identify three people whose friendships offer the potential for deeper feelings of relatedness? Each of these opportunities may be less than ideal, but still there is opportunity. You are cultivating the ability of your mind and heart to be available for relationship and through mindfulness developing the skills to do so.
3. Turn your attention to your significant other. If it’s a long-term relationship, notice if you have ceased to seek intimacy. If so, why? Is it because of their imperfections? Your feelings of rejection? Boredom? Is the relationship failing to meet some expectation? This very same relationship offers an opportunity for deeper relatedness, if you are willing to accept the person as they are and not demand that they be otherwise. Commit to do doing metta [loving-kindness] practice for your significant other every morning for six months and observe what change occurs when you cultivate love without demand.
4. In most families there is a range of closeness among members. Do you feel more related to some members of your family than others? Start being mindful of how lack of closeness causes you to be defensive around a certain family member, or to shut someone out, or to ignore their full range of human dimensions. Begin a compassion practice for one such member of your family and start to explore how you can be more fully accepting of this person just as they are. And then notice how it feels within you when you do have a moment of such acceptance.
5. In one sense your co-workers are your work “family.” In fact the culture at your workplace will reflect the family dynamics of your boss. So you can do reflection #4 for your co-workers, just as you did for your family members.
6. Throughout your day you can notice and appreciate other people and be sympathetic toward their situations. Smile at them. Be kind to them. All of these actions represent numerous moments of relatedness. Develop a practice of mindful appreciation and kindness toward others. Observe how it starts to enrich your life within just a few months.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth, and ptsd (civilian and military). She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-614-0612.
When in a relationship it's important that you make it your top priority. Below are some tips to help make it last. However, if you find that you're stuck, things aren't flowing like you thought they would or you're looking for assistance keeping the love alive you may want to contact a therapist. They can help you get it back on track.
In the meantime, enjoy the tips below - they aren't too hard to follow and some are even fun!
1. Talk about great times from the past. Focus on the fun times and show appreciation for what brought you together in the first place. Talk about the romantic dinners, walks on the beach, your first kiss. It’s a great reminder of your love and a wonderful ego boost for you both. Don’t focus on the fact you may not doing that much anymore but shift it to the positive memories and the fun, acceptance and love you felt. Having a positive conversation like this will bring those fun memories to the forefront and increase the likelihood you incorporate those good times again.
2. Touch often. The power of touch is extremely important! Those little touches are a very powerful way to stay connected. As you pass each other touch a shoulder, hold hands, touch a cheek when kissing. When sitting on the couch together watching tv, softly rub his/her arm or leg. Give each other hugs! As relationships age the touching tends to decline. When was the last time you touched your partner? It’s amazing how soothing, calming and closeness a touch can bring. And … touching releases a powerful sex hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin causes a bonding feeling. It takes very little touching for the oxytocin to kick in… so please keep touching.
3. Be a good listener. Sometimes we just need to be heard. We don’t want a solution or a lot of talk in return. Venting is good! Let your partner vent, let them know you hear them, give them hugs or hold their hand when venting (there’s that touch). Your partner may not know if you want advice or just to be heard so communicate that. When we love someone we want to try to fix things. So communicate you just need to vent .. then .. your partner knows to be a good listener.
4. Communication! Talk to each other. Let each other know your wants. Ask your partner, “What do you need more of?” Then the key is, when they tell you, follow through on their answer. They might respond with “I need more alone time with you” or “I miss kissing you like we used to”. When you make your needs known resentment and anger doesn’t build because it's all out in the open. So talk, talk, talk. Get the conversation going. Once it’s been shared you can easily fulfill the request or talk about a compromise.
5. Accept that you each are going to have bad days. We all can’t be perfect every day. Your partner may snap at something you find ridiculous. Chances are it isn’t about that little thing that he/she’s snapping about but rather a bigger issue of something that occurred earlier. Like an argument with a friend or colleague. So before you jump back with a terse response, remain calm and listen (remember “be a good listener”). Try and understand your partner may just be having a bad day. Be a little sympathetic. When you practice this it will become more natural when it’s you having the bad day and your partner will see how nice it was that you remained calm.
6. Have fun! Every day life can be stressful. We are filled with bad news on the radio/tv, there’s financial problems, you hear of friends not getting along. All of this can pull a person down. Instead of focusing on the bad, take time to play! Grab a glass of wine and play a board game, play cards, plan a date of miniature golf. Get out the rut. Laugh! Giggle! Tickle! Be spontaneous! Remind each other how fun you both can be.
7. Be financially responsible. Money is one of the biggest relationship stressors, especially when times are tough. You both need to know the bills are getting paid which brings a feeling of security. Watch the unnecessary spending. What tends to work well is having a joint account for bills and necessities but also create a separate account for each of you. You don’t have to put a lot in the separate account if you don’t have much coming in, but, it creates a play account where you don’t have to ask permission to spend. Have a conversation on what amount will work for you both. It can be as little as $20/month. Trust me, it adds up over time. You each put the same amount in each of your accounts. Save it over time and then when you need a special item you can buy it. No hard feelings because it’s already been worked in the budget.
8. Give each other alone time with their friends. Sometimes events come up that might be just a guys or girls night out. Maybe the guys want to get together to watch a sporting event or the girls want to have lunch together. It’s okay! Don’t make each other feel guilty for wanting to spend time with their friends. Maintaining separate social lives and being supportive of each other boosts a relationship.
9. Fight Fairly. Don’t use words like “always” or “never” when arguing, such as, “You never let me do what I want!”. That distracts from the issue at hand. Remind each other that you need to stay focused on finding a solution. You each may say something that you don’t really mean but don’t realize it until the argument winds down. Know that it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t really mean that”. Accept the apology and refocus on the solution which may involve a compromise.
10. Drop old issues. We all have “stuff” from our past. Maybe with old friends, dating times and/or family. Don’t bring up old issues to use in a new argument. Avoid the hot topics if you’ve already discussed them. Hopefully these have all already been worked through. If either of you are having a hard time of letting go and the past keeps coming up you may need the help of a therapist.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Orange, CA but also has options for home-based and online psychotherapy. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, ptsd and provides support to the military population and their families. She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-614-0612.
*Photo via foter.com
You had an amazing passionate relationship with your spouse. Sex was beautiful, often, and intense. It was a safe place. It was when you felt the most intimate and close that you can feel with anyone. You both had thoughtful, deep and ultimately the best conversations. You embraced the closeness you both felt in those moments after.… when you are coming down from the highest of highs. Those moments of laying together are etched in your memory.
I hope each military couple out there still has the same intensity as when they first met, were dating, or after their marriage. Don’t we all wish that passion was still there?
I’m guessing for most military couples who have endured multiple deployments that is not the case. The spouse who has been waiting and taking care of the home and children has been anticipating their veteran’s return. The void of sex is almost painful. But she/he knows when their partner finally arrives it will be filled with that passion and intimacy that they have longed for over the past several months. Unfortunately, in most cases that is not the reality.
I work with many veterans and military families and I hear a lot of the same story. Sex is not the same. They want the passion. They want it all to be just as it was before and when it’s not the frustration begins, for both. Each time they try and that fulfillment isn’t there both partners feel a sense of loss. They both work so hard at getting it back. The incentive is there but the same feelings aren’t occurring.
The returning veteran is feeling the effects of war - some of which are probably nightmares, startle responses, paranoia, fear, being on edge, depression and anger. Some veterans have physical effects such as burns, scars and loss of limbs. Each veteran has their own set of emotional and physical changes due to combat. Any one of those can have a profound affect of the sexual relationship.
For the partner who’s been at home waiting for these passionate moments please try to understand what your veteran has been through and the symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and what just plain war creates. For the veteran, please try not to be disappointed in yourself. Let me assure you, you are not the only veteran experiencing this. You may not be sharing your sex life, or lack of it, with your buddies but I know the same frustrations are occurring in most.
Let me offer some suggestions;
Combat takes a toll on all relationships. I hope the above guidelines and suggestions are helpful. Please try to understand you are not alone, either partner, in the struggle to rekindle your sexual relationship.
It is not a sign of weakness to seek out help and support but rather a sign of strength in wanting to work on improving your relationship. I commend you for all you have given and wish you peace.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides home-based and online psychotherapy. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, stress reduction, depression, trauma and provides support to the military population and their families. She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com and email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com
I hope you find the above points helpful. Become aware of the way you think and behave and work on it being more productive.
In closing, draw upon your own inner resources to offer love, attention and nurturance not only toward your partner but for yourself.
I'm a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Psychotherapist, who works with individuals, couples and families. I'm also a thinker, doer, caregiver and idealist. I hope I inspire you to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised what you discover.