Since March 2020, apps like Calm, Headspace, and Ten Percent Happier have seen surges in downloads as the world struggled to find peace amidst chaos. We needn’t wait for crises to reap the benefits of mindfulness; incorporating daily yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can improve both lives and relationships.
Mayo Clinic defines mindfulness as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” Mindfulness requires taking time to experience your environment; for example, while eating, take your time smelling, tasting, and enjoying. This develops awareness and attention to the present moment, as well as a curious, non-judgmental attitude.
Yoga is a mindful practice that incorporates physicality. Some yoga classes begin with stating intentions or making connections between what you’re working through on the mat and what you plan to focus on as you resume your day. Even for non-yogis, setting intentions can be helpful. What quality would you like to cultivate? Gratitude? Strength? Peace?
Now take it a step further: how can we be present and mindful in our relationships, especially with partners? Here are some suggestions:
Set intentions. Clarify your goals for interaction with your partner. Examples include to listen, to be curious, to reserve judgment, or to seek common ground. Choose what’s right for you and the situation.
Don’t let your mind wander. If you start thinking about the funny noise the dishwasher is making or what needs to go on the grocery list, bring the focus back to your partner by looking closely at tiny details: the deep brown of his eyes, the crooked way she smiles—whatever it is that touches your heart. Appreciate this person.
Listen. Most longtime couples are guilty of occasionally going on autopilot, and any couple that has been spending even more time together throughout the pandemic may be unintentionally tuning each other out. When we interrupt, even to add perspective or share a similar experience, we are making the conversation about us. Receive the information in a receptive, non-judgmental, and compassionate way, and contribute when appropriate.
Check for understanding. Sometimes, because we think we know what our partners are going to say, we don’t correctly comprehend what they’re sharing. Repeat back what you think your partner was trying to communicate. Repositioning our bodies can also strengthen listening skills. Lean toward your partner; touch him or her on the shoulder or arm. Ask tactful clarifying questions and reflect on how your partner was feeling.
Stay present and emphasize positives. Arguments are inevitable in any relationship, but do you find yourself arguing about the same, stale issues that aren’t dealbreakers? “She never fills the gas tank,” or “he has no clue how to use the vacuum cleaner.” Be mindful of where you are expending energy; using it to focus on positives and to stay in the moment can help keep emotions in check. Remember all the reasons you fell in love with your partner in the first place and recognize what you have with this person. Imagine you’re seeing him or her for the first time. What attracts you?
If you can be mindful of the beauty of a sunset or the shape of a flower, you can bring that same sense of awe to the person sitting across from you at the breakfast table. Mindfulness has been known to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, alleviate gastrointestinal issues, and even help treat heart disease. If it can also help you love and understand your partner at a deeper level, isn’t it worth a try?
Judith A. Rucki is a public relations consultant and freelance writer.