For this month’s blog post, I wanted to write about using mindfulness in relationships. I am a big fan of mindfulness and think that it can be a very useful tool in dealing with people that are important to us. When we are in a relationship, we often have expectations of the other to behave a certain way. When they don’t get that memo (or choose to ignore it), we can become triggered and emotional. When we are in our emotional state, we often react instead of respond, and can say or do hurtful things that can damage the relationship. Mindfulness can interrupt this cycle by giving us the space to see things more objectively, to notice our irrational thoughts and see them for what they are.
An example of how to use mindfulness is: in an argument with my partner, I may become convinced that I am right, and they are wrong. This would lead me to become emotional- maybe angry and self-righteous, or hurt and sad. I could use mindfulness to focus on my breath at this time, and try to take deeper and slower breaths. I would also notice what emotions I am feeling, the intensity of the emotion, and where I feel it in my body. It is important to feel the emotion and be able to label it. Emotional avoidance is a factor in a wide range of emotional disorders, so it is important to connect to these emotions.
Once I do this, I could also try to become aware of the thoughts I am having that might be fueling this emotional state. Am I having thoughts like “I don’t deserve this!” or “He is not a nice person!”? Thoughts like these are very common, but if we dissect them they are actually pretty negative. Take “I don’t deserve this!” A more realistic thought may be that conflict comes up in intimate relationships and working through the conflict is part of what creates that intimacy and connection. When we think thoughts condemning the other person, it makes it pretty impossible to be open to hearing and understanding their point of view. A better thought to try to get to in these situations is, “What part am I playing in this conflict?” or “What am I responsible for?”
At UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center I was told the goal of a mindfulness practice is equanimity. The definition of this is: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. They also emphasize acceptance and non-compulsion. Now wouldn’t those traits come in handy in a relationship? ☺