Express Yourself: Could your mindfulness save your marriage
Politicians have practised it in Parliament, the NHS employs it to treat stress and it is thought to be so good for mental health that it has been dubbed “bicep curls for the brain”.
However, now it appears practising mindfulness techniques could have another benefit – it could help to save your relationship.
Mindfulness originated as a type of Buddhist meditation but in recent years has gained popularity as a way to combat stress.
Being mindful involves bringing your attention to the present moment rather than being distracted by everything going on around you.
Mindfulness expert Padraig O’Morain says using this simple technique can help you better understand and relate to your partner.
He says over time relationships fall into set patterns and habits in the ways you see, think about and talk to your other half.
Mindfulness can help you break free from these habits by changing the way you view things around you.
“Areas of the brain that are linked to switching our perspective are enhanced by mindfulness practice,” says Padraig.
“For example, it can help you see a situation from another person’s point of view. It can encourage us to step out of tired patterns and to see our relationship with new eyes.”
Here are Padraig’s top tips:
Think before you speak
One important aspect of mindfulness practice involves taking a few seconds out from the rush of life.
When you apply this to your relationship, it means pausing before you interact with your partner.
If you’re about to say something critical, take a moment and consider if being critical in the past has been useful.
Chances are it hasn’t. Could you find a softer way to say what you want to say?
Recent relationship research suggests that if we want to say something negative to a partner we should start by expressing ourselves as softly and as gently as we can.
A mindful pause before speaking or acting can change the entire tone of a relationship for the better.
The key is to listen to what is being said without trying to figure out a reply at the same time
Have you ever found you can walk down the same street many times without noticing a particular feature until it is pointed out to you?
That is the numbing effect of habit. The same can happen with people. If you have been with your partner for a long time, consider whether you have actually looked at him or her lately.
Have you really looked with full attention at this person who is accompanying you on your journey through life? Or are you looking at an old faded picture?
Try looking at your partner with new, mindful eyes and see what a difference it makes.
Learn to listen
Do you remember a time when somebody really listened to you? Simply being listened to with deep attention can bring a lot of happiness.
That is exactly what mindful listening accomplishes. The key is to listen to what is being said without trying to figure out a reply at the same time.
Look at your partner’s face and eyes as they speak. This doesn’t mean staring or glaring but resting your attention on the other person’s face and eyes as they talk to you.
Notice your own physical reactions as you listen to the person speaking. Sometimes being aware of those reactions can make you more aware of how to respond.
Language of love
Have your words ever been misunderstood by your partner or hurt them unintentionally?
Mindful speech is a matter of paying attention to what you are saying and how you are saying it.
If you are more aware you’ll notice that the words you are choosing are helpful or unhelpful.
You’ll have a better chance of realising that you’re about to say something that will make things worse, rather than better.
Or if you have already said something that has made things worse, you will have the awareness to realise this and correct yourself.
Think of a resentment triangle: one point is the memory of whatever it is that we resent, the second is the feeling of anger that it summons up and the third is the way we retell the story to ourselves again and again, reliving the scenes in our head.
That third point is the one that keeps resentment going. A mindful approach is to accept that you can do little about the first two points of the triangle.
To deal with the third point you need to acknowledge the presence of the memory but not allow yourself to keep going over it.
By doing this you don’t rerun the scenes, you won’t create new lines of dialogue and you won’t endlessly try to make it turn out differently in fantasy.
You will acknowledge it is reality and leave it at that. When you take this approach resentment is able to gradually fade.