Romantic relationships are a paradox: they are one of the best experiences, yet also one of the most challenging experiences, in life.
As with the rest of life, partnerships will go through natural ebbs and flows–times when we feel uplifted through the relationship, and times when we feel challenged beyond belief. There is no avoiding these natural rhythms, just as there is no way to change the cycles of nature.
This is why cultivating mindfulness in relationships is so crucial to our lasting happiness. Mindfulness is a sense of calm and impartial awareness of the present moment, no matter what it holds. When we are mindful, we are fully present in the moment and aware of our circumstances, as well as our thoughts, feelings, and senses, without placing judgment upon them.
By choosing mindfulness, we set the stage for a much higher expression of love in our lives. We begin to accept our partnerships for what they are, rather than grasping for what they are not. Then we can navigate even the most challenging times with more patience and peace while also reaping more fulfillment from the enjoyable times.
What exactly does it mean to be present in the moment? For starters, think of how you’ve felt in the peak moments of your relationship. Remember how you savored every minute of that wonderful vacation you took together? Or how you felt when your partner first said the L-word? There’s no doubt about it: it is easy to be present in a wonderful moment. For all of the other moments, it may require a bit of practice.
You can start by practicing presence while you and your partner are doing something mundane together, like washing dishes or eating dinner. These neutral experiences are a great place to begin expanding your relationship mindfulness. Notice how you feel when you share a smile with your partner; notice the particular sound of his laugh. Develop the same conscious appreciation for the little things that you already have for the big things.
The next step is continuing this mindfulness during more challenging moments. Start small. The next time your partner does something minor that upsets you–like forgetting to take out the trash–see what it feels like to practice acceptance. Your inner monolog might sound something like this: Yes, he forgot to take out the trash. I accept this reality. I am also fully aware of my annoyance in this moment, and I accept that too. Then take a deep breath and try to move on without carrying your frustration into the next moment.
Once you master this practice for the small stuff, you can begin to deepen your conscious presence into more challenging territory. Rather than struggling against the difficult moments in your relationship, try saying “yes” to them just as you would with any other moment. If your partner isn’t living up to your expectations or desires, try simply accepting him or her exactly as they are, without trying to control or change them.
If negative feelings come up, allow yourself to feel them–but the trick is to stay present as you do this. When you give into thoughts like, “He always does this to me!” you are actually moving into the past, and therefore losing your awareness of this moment. How many times have you been grinding away about something that happened yesterday–or last month, or years ago–only to realize that you’ve left the stovetop on or locked your keys in the car? These are signs that you’ve lost touch with the present. But don’t beat yourself up over it; just take a deep breath and gently guide your awareness back to this moment.
Conversely, worrying about the future (as in, “Will we ever get married?”) also takes away from your awareness of the present moment. Accepting the unknown is one of the hardest things about relationships. The idea that one or both people may someday have a change of heart, a change in life direction, or even a change in health can be frightening for both parties. Yet keep in mind that in all of life, change is the only constant. Because nothing in the future can be guaranteed, we are left with only one task: enjoy the present as it is right now.
Many spiritual traditions tell us that our outer world acts as a mirror to our inner world. The ancient phrase, “As within, so without,” is a testament to this universal truth. Thus, when you are feeling light and joyous, you are likely to attract more joyful experiences.
This is equally true in the case of our relationships with loved ones. When we practice mindful relationships, we begin to understand how our partner acts as a mirror for ourselves. Seeing your partner in this light can provide great insight into our own unconscious inner workings. How does he or she reflect your personality traits or your beliefs about yourself? This can also help us avoid the blame game in relationships so that we begin to bring out the best in one another.
In the words of Rumi, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” When we develop mindfulness in our relationships, we open ourselves up for all of the amazing growth experiences that deep interaction with another soul has to offer.
Written By: Sarah Baldwin