As a couples therapist, I teach skills that are helpful to couples in navigating difficulties experienced in relating to one another. The skill-building process can address many potential areas of conflict and need in a marriage, and identify how we think of ourselves and our partner, how we feel about ourselves and one another, the ways we perceptually create our day-to-day reality, and how we approach change, decision making, managing stress, and problem solving, to name but a few.
A mindfulness approach can be a great asset in building the skills necessary to create a more fulfilling and rewarding intimacy journey together. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well-known teacher and author of mindfulness-based meditation, defines: “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.” Whether or not a couple or individual has an active meditation practice, the skills of mindfulness can be used by anyone to support communication skill-building, to reduce conflict, and to increase the emotional connectedness that so many couples desire to experience.
Let us explore these four component parts of Jon Kaabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:
1.) Paying Attention in a Particular Way
2.) On Purpose
3.) In the Present Moment
So, how can we use the definition above, to guide us in marital communication? First, “paying attention in a particular way,” indicates directing our awareness consciously (in this case, toward and with our partner). Rather than directing our awareness out of habitual responses, we are pausing and choosing to be attending to what is unfolding.
“On purpose” is a validation to our partner, as we set our intention to be with them by conscious choice. They may feel and notice that we are really there with them, rather than distracted and barely present to them. This can provide an unspoken level of emotional security, in meeting our partner where he or she is.
We enter “in the present moment,” and a quality of acceptance of “what is,” manifests in our communication together. Here, we have the opportunity to co-create, with a sense of collaboration, that lends itself to solutions, and opens us to new possibilities in our togetherness.
“Nonjudgementalness” is a helper that can remind us to be watchful of any tendency to make me right and you wrong. Judgement can occur when one of us feels threatened, defensive, blamed, angry, dismissive, fearful, superior, in relation to a partner or the partner’s position on a given issue in the communication process. Judgement can show up in both overt and subtle ways, and will often undermine attempts at resolving issues, due to its polarizing effect. If we become aware that we are being judgemental, it is an opportunity to look more closely at the emotions that are present within us in that moment. Ask Questions of yourself, such as: what might I be afraid of? Being wrong? Failing? Losing status in my partner’s eyes? Fearing the closeness (or loss of it) that such a powerful and positive interaction with my partner can bring? There are many possibilities. As we focus our awareness, these emotions will show themselves more readily, in order to be explored, with the opportunity to work through them.
Focusing awareness, is a key to attending to both partners’ experiences in communication. With practice in mindfulness, intimate partners can cultivate these mindful skills and replace habitual unsatisfying and negative communication responses, with increased awareness, that brings optimal energy, connection, and consistent closeness to the relationship, that most are yearning for.
For more information, please contact Ann Arbor Couples Clinic, (734) 417-9522.