Tips for Remaining Mindful in Relationship

2014_and_fireworksAs a relationship therapist, the question I’ve been asking myself for years is how to be mindful or fully present in relationships. How do we deeply connect with our partner, not just physically but on every level? Can we reach beyond the walls of our separate self into a sense of oneness with our beloved? Every relationship, when you add intentionality and mindfulness, has the potential to be a transformative journey towards wholeness. We are actually here to heal each other and help each other grow. We are here to experience God, through the experience of human love.

1. Practice Mindfulness in Your Relationship

Bringing mindfulness into your relationship offers the kind of intimacy and connection that we all want. I first encountered the possibility of mindfulness in relationships while sitting with one of my teachers, Ram Das. A student asked him a question about relationships. At first, Ram Das gave a superficial answer but when the student persisted he said “if you really want to look at love from the spiritual side you can make your relationship your yoga, but it is the hardest yoga you will ever do.” I immediately understood the implication of making my relationship my yoga. Mindfulness practice, prayer, meditation, all the healing techniques are all very important. However, something altogether different happens when you decide to make your relationship your spiritual practice. After a while there comes a point where we have done as much of the inner workings we can do by ourselves. You can only work on yourself so much alone. At some point we need intimate relationships (a giver and a receiver) in order to go farther with our inner work.Intimacy is becoming the new frontier because honesty alone is relatively easy, however honesty with an intimate partner is 10 times harder.

2. Stop the Spinning Mind & Be Present in the Moment

Being present in conversation with another person, particularly around frustrating issues, is a very difficult challenge because conversing almost immediately takes us out of the present moment and into the past or future. Since so much of our lives are spent in relationships I began asking the question, “where are you when you’re conversing with your partner” the answer is usually caught up in our relentlessly spinning mind already planning the next statement as your partner is talking. We are distracted by the words and body language which we are busy interpreting, distorting, judging and forming opinions about. We are distracted by the sounds in the room, discomforts in our body, as well as our reaction to what is being said.

3. Become a Better Listener

So how then, do we create a sense of presence? How can we be mindful in our relationships? One way, is to simply become a better listener. What does it really mean to listen? How can we become better listeners? We often don’t realize how little we are listening to our partners, but are listening instead to our own internal response. One way is to sit still and practice mindfulness. This type of training can prepare you listen attentively in a relationship. You must quiet down in order to learn how to listen. Once you have settled down, you can begin to hear what your partner is saying. However, it’s not enough to listen. You must really hear what your partner is saying. Additionally your partner needs to feel heard. In order to listen and hear, you need to suspend all your judgments and opinions and listen openly and empathetically.

4. Use Imago Dialogue and Other Techniques to Suspend Judgment

So is it really possible to suspend judgment and opinions? Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt have found a way. It’s called Imago dialogue. This dialogue also referred to as intentional dialogue, is mindfulness in relationships. It consists of three steps: mirroring, validation and empathy. Mirroring is reflecting back what you’ve just heard your partner say. In essence you mirror back to him or her his/her exact words, mirroring as accurately as possible the message your partner is sending. It means repeating back or paraphrasing what the other person said without interpreting, distorting, emphasizing, adding or selecting out what is important. Of course, to do this you must be listening very attentively. Also as a listener, who is mirroring, you need to suspend your own perspective temporarily and be open to hearing your partner’s view of the world. You need to be willing to allow your partner to have a view of the world which is different than your own and you need to have the capacity to contain your own reactions and responses and allow your partner to be the center temporarily and letting it just be about him or her. In this way, you transcend your own perspective and allow your partners experience to have its own reality. You can deepen this level of communication and transcend your separateness by empathizing and participating in the feelings that your partner is experiencing about the event or the situation they are discussing. By mirroring your partner in this way, you will be present and on your way towards cultivating a mindful relationship.