I’ll be speaking again at the The Unity Church of Calgary this Sunday, February 2, 10AM on the topic of “presence and mindfulness” in relationships. Many couples could avoid a marriage counsellor or therapy if they practiced this one habit. My clients are often surprised when I remind them of the simple and profound importance of being present and relaxed (mindful) BEFORE attempting to deal with relationship issues and problems. The state of anxiety and compassion are mutually exclusive, that is, you can’t be compassionate when you’re feeling anxious! Many couples are not aware of or in touch with their anxiety and this often leads to what John Gottman calls “The 4 Horsemen,” the four patterns that predict divorce – criticism, contempt, defensiveness and withdrawal (see Relationship Essential # 9) I’ve recently heard this state referred to as “neural muscular lock,” otherwise known as “fight-flight-freeze-fold.” It’s a primal brain state that has evolved for our survival. It’s good thing, it’s designed to keep us alive when we’re being chased by by a predator. However, it’s not a good state to be in for effective communication!
Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” It’s the opposite of neural muscular lock. One of the simplest and most popular mindfulness practices is to focus on the breath. Simply close your eyes and direct your attention to “riding the wave of your breathing.” Focus on the breath, in…and…out… Notice that the in-breath is cooler than the out-breath. When your attention wanders (which it will, especially when you’re new to the practice), simply and gently re-focus on your breath. Sounds simple? It is but it does take practice. After a while you’ll notice that your “mind chatter” quiets and you begin to deeply relax. Studies show that just 5 minutes/day of mindfulness practice can dramatically improve one’s ability to regulate emotion and reduce anxiety.Some couples mindfulness practices are: holding hands, making eye contact, hugs, sharing an appreciation, enjoying a fun activity together, etc. Try this experiment. If you’re upset with your partner, instead of talking about it right away, take some time to calm down and self soothe. In addition to the above breath practice, try going for a walk in nature, go to the gym, do anything that helps you get emotionally grounded. Don’t just do what you usually do when you’re upset. Do something different! Then, if you’re still concerned about the issue, set aside some undistracted time to deal with it. Before you start to talk, imagine “waving the white flag” to your partner to give them the message that you are approachable, you want to be friends, and you care about them. All social mammals, including human beings, are always in one of three basic states of being: attack, avoid or approach. Being present and mindful means being approachable.
You’ll be more connected and better able to have an effective conversation…and a better relationship!