05 Sep Mindfulness in Relationships by Sara Loughlin, LCSW
For this month’s blog post, I wanted to write about using mindfulness in relationships. I am a big fan of mindfulness and think that it can be a very useful tool in dealing with people who are important to us. When we are in a relationship, we often have expectations that the other person behave in a certain way. When that person doesn’t get that memo (or chooses to ignore the memo), we can become triggered and emotional.
When we are in our emotional state, we often react (instead of respond), and can say or do hurtful things that can damage the relationship. Mindfulness can interrupt this cycle by giving us the space to see things more objectively, to notice our irrational thoughts, and to see them for what they are.
An example of how to use mindfulness is the following: In an argument with my partner, I may become convinced that I am right, and he or she is wrong. This would lead me to become emotional- maybe angry and self-righteous, or hurt and sad. I could use mindfulness to focus on my breath at this time, and try to take deeper and slower breaths. I would also notice what emotion I am feeling, the intensity of the emotion, and where I feel the emotion in my body. It is important to feel the emotion and be able to label it. Emotional avoidance is a factor in a wide range of emotional disorders, so it is important to connect to your emotions.
Once I do this, I could also try to become aware of the thoughts I am having that might be fueling this emotional state. Am I having thoughts like “I don’t deserve this!” or “He is not a nice person!”? Thoughts like these are very common, but if we dissect them, they are actually pretty negative. As an example, take “I don’t deserve this!” A more realistic thought may be that conflict comes up in intimate relationships and working through the conflict is part of what creates that intimacy and connection. When we think thoughts condemning the other person, it makes it pretty impossible to be open to hearing and understanding his or her point of view. A better thought in these situations is “What part am I playing in this conflict?” or “What am I responsible for?”
At UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, I was told the goal of a mindfulness practice is equanimity. The definition of this is: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. The Center also emphasizes acceptance and non-compulsion. Now wouldn’t those elements come in handy in a relationship? ☺