Mindful Relationships: How mindfulness practice and techniques can help you connect more deeply with your partner

Relationships are never static; they are ever-changing and have ups and downs. With the evolving dynamics in our relationships, how can we achieve a fulfilling and happy relationship? It is a question that often crosses our minds when faced with challenges and conflicts in any relationship, especially with our partners. Though it is challenging to come up with a definitive answer, some successful practices and habits can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship.

Couples therapy and individual counseling can be powerful tools to strengthen and improve relationships. One of the other practical and effective tools you can use to improve your relationship is mindfulness practices. Mindfulness helps us cultivate present moment awareness with our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. In relationships, mindfulness can help us enhance our awareness of how the relationship has been evolving and tap into what is working and what is not.

Mindfulness enhances awareness of self and others. It helps us recognize how we interact with our partners and allows us to become aware of specific patterns of behavior that might be causing damage to our relationship. Such awareness also helps open up our limiting beliefs to a different perspective that our partner holds. For example, we tend to assume how the counterpart would say or behave based on our observed behavior from the partner. This creates prejudice and a specific construct that could limit us from accepting an evolving side of our partner.

Dr. John Gottman, a well-known specialist in relationships, says that the ability to turn toward one another and continually deepen the bond by making an effort every day to reach out to your partner is a vital indicator of a good and sound relationship. In addition, practicing mindfulness helps us understand our own needs and the needs of our partners.

The experts say that the vast majority of disagreements in romantic relationships occur due to turning away from each other, especially during times of conflict. Here are some of the challenges and struggles that we encounter in different scenarios of relationships with our partners.

Long-distance relationships

Long-distance relationships can be challenging due to miscommunication, time conflicts, lack of intimacy, and accountability issues.

Closed off relationships

A partner experiences disconnection, isolation, and aloofness in a closed-off relationship. It can lead to feelings of rejection. A partner may not comprehend why you refuse to talk, which becomes a cycle of silence and resentment.

Pandemic relationship struggles

Pandemic has caused anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and social isolation. These aspects have made relationships with partners more challenging than ever. Not having space, spilling of work and personal life, and pandemic worries have created a hostile environment for couples. Reports by Stanford Medicine mentioned that there had been an increase in people’s hostility of anger, and frustration during the pandemic. Such hostility could be taken out to your partners and loved ones. In order to restrain from outbursts, mindfulness can be helpful in the regulation of stress and emotions effectively.

Using mindfulness approach to improve relationships:

Expressing gratitude

Mindfulness helps us to cultivate appreciation and gratitude in all things and connections. Practicing gratitude can help you guide your mind to focus on the positive rather than the negative – to look for opportunities rather than signs of failure. In addition, research shows that expressing gratitude in an intimate relationship enhances the level of connection and happiness in both the giver and the receiver the following day. So, expressing your gratitude and appreciation to your partner is mutually rewarding.

Here are some of the techniques suggested to express your gratitude:

  • A letter of appreciation expressing all that you admire in your partner in writing.
  • Daily Gratitude, like thanking your partner for making efforts and being thoughtful on a daily basis, like making a delicious meal or doing dishes.

Cultivating curiosity

Mindfulness practice can help cultivate a beginner’s mind attitude and curiosity towards your partner. It helps you to notice the minor attributes of your partner. Ask questions to your partner and be open to the aspects of this person you still do not know about yet. Even if you interact with each other every few hours or stay together in the same house, keep in mind that all humans are ever-changing in their way. If you ask more questions, it shows that you are interested and are curious about what is happening in your partner’s life. Next time try asking a few pertinent questions regarding their experiences.

Mindful listening

Have you ever engaged in a conversation and noticed that your partner was not listening to you? Or are you listening to understand what your partner is saying, or are you already preparing your response?

Listening indeed takes time, and we often jump to judgments before hearing out the whole story, especially with those whom we have known for a longer period of time. Therefore, to be good listeners, we need to hone our listening skills, as it is one of the essential skills in maintaining healthy and strong relationships.

Experiment with mindful listening practice to cultivate non-judgmental listening skills that can provide your partner an opportunity to share their feelings with complete acceptance and patience. Mindful listening is about recognizing that you have wandered away during the conversation and getting back to listening to your partner with your undivided attention.

Simply listen to your partner and observe their expressions and posture to try this practice. Try to refrain from providing suggestions or solving their issue. Once your partner stops sharing, confirm what he/she/they were trying to express to get a better grasp on the issue.

Prevent stress from affecting your relationship

Mindfulness has been shown to help us manage stress. Under constant stress, we tend to be more reactive and sensitive to even the smallest amount of tension in a relationship. When you are able to successfully manage stress, it is easier for you and your partner to have the most productive, meaningful, and intimate interaction.

Research has shown that simple mindfulness techniques such as the belly breathing method can improve stress coping skills, provide relaxation, boost mood, and improve focus. See below to learn how to apply this method:

  1. Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose for one to two minutes
  2. Place one hand on the belly or your chest.
  3. Notice how your belly or chest expands and relaxes with in-breath and exhale.
  4. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

Here are some effective and practical tips on improving relationships:

  • Scheduling time together with your partner (For example: Time to talk, movie nights, evening walks)
  • Communicating clearly during the time of conflict on what you need (For example: If you find the situation overwhelming and need time to think, clearly indicate to your partner and suggest how you will follow up regarding the conflict).
  • Communicate and plan based on realistic expectations
  • Adopt a no-tech time while interacting with your partner
  • Prioritize yourself and engage in things that fulfill you, create a productive space to energize yourself, and encourage your partner to do the same.
  • During the time of conflict, start by explaining how you feel due to certain actions by your partner rather than being accusatory. (For instance: Rather than saying, “You never do dishes,” tell your partner, “When you do not do dishes, I feel less appreciative and cared for”).

This blog written by Thoinu Karam, Family and Consumer Sciences intern.

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