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.
I'm a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who works with individuals, couples and families. I hope I inspire you to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised what you discover.