Relationship Has Flat-Lined? Bring It Back To Life By Learning Mindfulness Skills
You got a haircut and partner doesn’t look up from his mobile phone to notice. Partner is nagging about something every time you are in the middle of a video game. Why does he have to say that, it’s embarrassing? What is she wearing? He forgot...again?!?!
Familiar scenarios, and familiar thought bubbles? Well, congratulations, you must be in a long-term partnership. The heady, exciting, and stimulating phase of new love has now evolved to the ordinary, and sometimes gratingly familiar patterns of long-term partnership.
Is it doomed to be this way from here on? Not necessarily. The normal progression of long-term relationships— from exciting to mundane to sometimes annoyingly familiar—has a lot to do with how our mind operates.
Over time, relationships fall into sets of patterns and habits in the ways you see, think about and talk about your partner and your relationship—it gets old, and well, boring. Sometimes patterns also turn ugly, such that we automatically relate to our partner with contempt, avoidance, tuning out, or even with an expectation that we will be disappointed or frustrated. The problem with this is that we are often unaware of these thought patterns. It can be hard to fix something we don’t know.
It appears that practicing mindfulness techniques could help revive and renew a long-term partnership. How? Mindfulness can help you break free from these thought patterns by first becoming aware of these, catching them, and deliberately changing the way you view things and how you respond. Continued mindfulness practice hushes and quiets areas of the brain that are linked to our automatic and reactive thinking patterns to make room for us to make a more informed and thoughtful response. (Brefczynski-Lewis, et al. 2007; Davidson, 2012).
Mindfulness training and practice can invite us to step out of tired thinking patterns and see our partner and our relationship with fresh eyes.
Mindfulness practice is rooted in Buddhist meditation but, in recent years, the scientific community has studied how mindfulness training and practice can be effective to combat stress and bring about psychological wellness. Being mindful involves deliberately bringing your attention to the present moment and what is going on inside of you with an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment.(Kabat-Zinn, J., 1990).
How can mindfulness practice restore your partnership?
Mindfulness helps you manage your own reactivity by learning to hit pause.
One important aspect of mindfulness practice involves learning to recognize when you are triggered and notice body signals that tell you that you are about to launch into a nagging fit, raise your voice, or maybe tune out.
When you apply this to your relationship, it means learning to hit pause when you notice that your emotions are intensifying. It also means noticing when you are about to say something critical, and pause for a moment to see whether your critical response is suited in this particular situation.
Mindfulness also helps you manage your own stress and teach you to self-soothe and be empowered to bring your sensible and clear-headed mind in a difficult interaction with your partner.
A mindful pause before saying something or doing something can change the entire tone of a relationship for the better.
Mindfullness helps you become aware of your old storylines.
No worries. This is how our minds typically work and this is one way thought patterns emerge. You can imagine, though, how this mechanism can put a strain in a relationship—partner says or does something that triggers a resentful memory to surface, the emotions of annoyance, hurt, and anger comes up, and we relive the story and the drama over and over again.
A mindful approach is to accept that you have these stories and expectations in your head. With training and practice, we can learn to acknowledge these thought patterns without getting carried away by the intense emotions and hit pause to self-soothe. By doing this, we don’t recycle the old story lines that make up our negative thought patterns.
When you take this approach, resentment is able to gradually fade and make room for you to make new thought patterns that will help make your relationship thrive.
Mindfulness helps you remember to use all of your five senses.
Have you ever found yourself driving or commuting from work to home without noticing new details along the way—a new billboard, a boarded up restaurant, etc.? And you miss out on the small details along the way home and just notice that you have arrived home.
This is the numbing effect of a cognitive phenomena called habituation. The same can happen with our relationships. If you have been with your partner for a long time, consider whether you have actually looked at him or her lately. Or are we simply just going through the motions?
Try paying attention to your partner using all of your senses. Bring this mindfulness skill in the bedroom. Do it playfully, explore and experiment using your sense of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and even taste, and see the difference this way of paying attention to your partner makes.
Mindfulness allows you to practice non-judgment and acceptance.
Being listened to without fearing that somebody will judge you. Have you ever experienced that? Can you imagine how relaxing and incredibly freeing it is to be able to be listened to as you express your vulnerability?
That is exactly what mindful listening brings about—to open the space to your partner and listen without judgment. It means listening and parking for a moment the urge to rehearse in your mind what you will say in return.
It is inevitable for relationships to fall into an easy and predictable pattern, or for some old hurts to keep re-surfacing. We don’t have to succumb to this progression. We can choose not to take this course.
Renewing and reviving relationships simply mean learning new skills to manage your mind, and to creatively explore different ways of responding. Learning mindfulness is one way to jumpstart your relationship back to life, and mindfully choose how you and your partner want your relationship to be like.
Atkinson, B. J. (2013). Mindfulness training and the cultivation of secure, satisfying couple relationships. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 2(2), 73-94.
Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S.,Levinson, D. B., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104,11483–11488. doi:10.1073/pnas .0606552104
Davidson, R. J., (2012).The emotional life of your brain: How its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel, and live–and how you can change them. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990).Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York, NY: Bantam BooksDell.