How mindfulness can help your relationship
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of mindfulness in improving your mental and physical health but did you know practising mindfulness can also help build a stronger relationship with your partner? Over60 spoke to Margie Ulbrick, a collaborative family lawyer, relationships counsellor, psychotherapist, and co-author of new book Mindful Relationships, about how you can use mindfulness to help you and your relationships.
“Mindfulness does seem to be a bit of craze at the moment but being mindful is simply being present in the moment. It’s about paying attention to our senses and what's going on around us and acting with awareness in the moment,” says Margie, adding, “Practising mindfulness brings increased awareness to ourselves and surrounds. It also increases our capacity to notice, see and understand what's going on in any situation and in any relationship.”
Mindfulness helps build strong relationships
One of the main reasons relationships encounter difficulties is we’re too focused on our own wants, needs and individual happiness. With each person wanting to fulfil their own desires, conflicts and misunderstanding arise. And then patterns of conflict emerge.
“Often people get into patterns when managing conflict – so one person's pattern is to get angry and the other person's is to get angry back and then they both turn away from each other and not talk,” says Margie. “One of the things I do with couples is to look at the pattern. How do they manage conflict? Are they able to openly address issues? Or are there lots of no-go zones that don't get talked about because they never get resolved.”
What practising mindfulness does is to help you understand how your thoughts and actions affect your relationships. Margie advises people to focus not so much on what you can get out of a relationship but what you can do for the relationship.
“It's right and understandable that we should look after our own needs, we have to prioritise our own needs to a certain extent but we also need to think about where does that fit with this idea that our relationship is really important and I need to value that as well,” she says.
“You almost need to think about the relationship as a third entity.”
There’s you, there’s your partner and then there’s your relationship. Instead of focusing on just the self or just the relationship, mindfulness encourages you to increase your capacity for self-knowledge, self-awareness and self-understanding.
“Take the focus off the other person and all the things they do and don't do right or wrong, and start to go deeper into what do I actually feel? Ask yourself, what can I do to take responsibility for my own emotions and my own behaviour?” asks Margie.
“It's really about managing differences and increasing the capacity to have lots of conversations about a whole range of things that help build closeness and reduce that feeling of a lack of connection.”
How to bring mindfulness into your relationship
1. Be aware of the attitudes you bring into the relationship
“There's a sadness that comes with that stale idea of we've been together for so long and we already know each other so well that [we don’t need to work on our relationship],” says Margie. “Just having the commitment and the attitude that this relationship does matter makes a different.”
2. (Really) listen to your partner
“Really listen, learn to really pay attention to what our partner is saying, thinking and feeling – and not just their words, but the body language and everything else that's going on behind it,” she says, continuing, “When we can do this, it naturally stimulates us to be more compassionate. We soften and we feel kinder and our attitudes change and the things that might have irritated us don't irritate us as much.”
3. Understand your own emotions
“If you are able to soothe your own reactivity it means that you can be present enough to really understand what’s going on for the other person,” advises Margie. “If we react instinctively, if we lose our temper, if we get triggered and respond to each other in habitual ways, we can get really stuck in patterns of conflict and that limits our capacity to bring any kind of true appreciation for each other in a relationship.”
4. Deal with conflict in a healthy way
“Healthy relationships comes down to managing difficulties and not falling back into patterns of conflict like distancing and stonewalling or angry complaining,” says Margie. “Be open and honest and true and express that in healthy ways when dealing with conflict.”
5. Look at the relationship with fresh eyes
“Being able to look at the person opposite you and realise that they’ve changed is important. They’re not the person you thought they were necessarily because everyone is growing and developing and being impacted by things all the time,” says Margie.
“Especially during retirement, which is another developmental stage, you have to adjust. Approach it with the idea of I'm going to get to know who you are now.”
6. Be kind
“Think what you could do for the other person rather than what it is that you need them to do for you,” reminds Margie.