So far in the 'Mindfulness &' series, I have interviewed a nutrition coach about how mindfulness and our physical health are connected and a life coach about where mindfulness fits into our work lives. This week I am focusing on ways mindfulness can improve our relationships.
As a therapist, I understand the value in developing an independent mindfulness practice for yourself but I wondered how couples could go about achieving this same level of presence in their relationships. As it turns out, a lot of work still needs to be done as individuals, however there are some key ingredients that I learned about this week that can significantly strengthen relationships.
I interviewed fellow therapist and relationship expert, Rebecca Wong of Connectfulness, a research-based practice that encourages people to explore and embrace every aspect of their humanity – including everything that is marvelous and all that is messy. Her work is based in the premise that sustainable, meaningful, playful, intimate relationships share key ingredients: reflection + observation.
Rebecca defines mindfulness as bringing to mind what is going on for you in the moment and tuning into those things happening in the present. She explains that this can help us improve our awareness to ourselves, our partners, and the world in ways that we might not normally notice.
Rebecca noted that the challenge in implementing mindfulness in relationships is that we often get wrapped up in external things like conflict, which takes us away from ourselves and our relationship.
Like Sarah mentioned last week, Rebecca pointed out that the most important piece of mindfulness is coming back to the present when we lose focus. More important than remembering the reasons why you are together as a couple, Rebecca explained, is remembering that you have the option to be present and come back together.
We discussed how important it is for people to have their own mindfulness practices when they are attempting to strengthen their relationships. There are certain tools that couples can use to practice mindfulness together such as physical touch, breathing together, eye gazing, and holding hands. Being turned off and slowing down is crucial to being in the moment.
Having challenged myself and my husband to eye gazing in the past and knowing how intense it could be, I wondered if Rebecca could explain why. She stated that eye gazing is often intense because "to share eyes with someone, anyone for 60 seconds, you see into each other. You take each other in and to be able to tolerate that space you also have to see into yourself and you have to see what blocks might be coming up for you."
The most important thing, Rebecca explained, is to be connected to one another and be present with one another. Whether it is touching, breathing together, or looking at one another, the most crucial piece is to be in the moment where the couple can feel their bond and slow down.
Another fun and unique piece of advice that Rebecca gives is for couples to play. Rebecca explained that "play keeps us engaged. Play is where our brains become more elastic and is where we're more able to try new things." She made the distinction that we need to feel safe in order to play.
Rebecca explained that play can be a catalyst to those deep feelings of connection, presence and peace that traditional mindfulness meditation also brings about. When our guard is down and we have a safe space to express ourself in the most free way, we are completely present in that moment. Not thinking about our defenses or being judged by others or even by ourselves can be a truly freeing feeling.
As for those not coupled up but looking to be in healthy relationships and work through blocks, Rebecca suggests that they begin doing this by improving their relationship with themselves. Self-love can be difficult because those same blocks that keep people from relationships are also very difficult to confront.
Rebecca offers simple ways to become gentle with oneself in order to begin the process of self-love. Things like self-massage, mindful walks, and breathing exercises can get a person more connected to themselves. Individuals can also benefit from slowing down, disconnecting from the outside world, and utilizing play in their lives.
She noted that the one piece that is critical in improving your relationship with yourself is learning to become comfortable with discomfort. Whether in a relationship or not, we can all learn to be more present in these moments of discomfort in order to allow ourselves the opportunity to grow.
To conclude this blog about love and relationships, I will share a quote from Rebecca. "Love is an act. And it is an act of attention and awareness. When you bring attention and awareness to that uncomfortable part of yourself that is how you show yourself love." I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone in your relationships with others and yourself. Begin to play and embrace the things that create discomfort!