Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. It also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
How do we use mindfulness as a tool to managing our own reactivity in relationship conflict? It can be hard to maintain a sense of presence and awareness of our thoughts, body sensations and feelings when we are irritated or frustrated. When we’re feeling wounded by our partner, there’s a part of us that naturally wants to hurt back. We’re often not just responding to just that situation but a history of similar incidents that caused hurt and perhaps never adequately got addressed.
Mindfulness increases our awareness of what we are experiencing and reminds us that if we can take some space to catch our habituated thoughts and feelings about our partner we can slow down our reactivity towards them. This can help us make better choices on a moment to moment basis on how we want to act in our daily lives. When we bring our focus of attention to the present moment on purpose we are far less likely to build a case against our partner or blow up around their perceived faults and shortcomings.
Here’s a great mindfulness practice you can try now:
- Track back to an incident where you felt triggered by your partner and you could feel the conversation escalating into a heated argument.
- In your imagination see yourself as your thoughts and feelings were starting to cook inside of you. Really notice yourself. Were you feeling anger? Frustrated? Were you tired? Stressed? Just see or sense into your emotions or body sensations at the time as if you are watching a replay of a film, where you can press the pause button at any time.
- Now take a few long, slow breaths and see and feel these emotions as an observer, without reacting to them, without getting caught up in any judgements or overwhelm. Like you are watching a film about you.
- As you observe yourself, take a moment to feel compassion for yourself and your partner, both good people, caught up in the pain of this conflict together.
- Think about how you would have liked to respond to this incident if you hadn’t slipped into reaction mode.
- Remember, this is not necessarily about resolving the conflict, but simply catching your own behaviour pattern and exercising an awareness of the thoughts and feelings in the moment.
- As you catch these thoughts and feelings in the moment you may also become more aware of choices in your response in that moment.
We can cultivate incredible love, compassion, patience and good humour around our pets, why not around our partners? Mindfulness practice on a daily basis allows us to become more centred and calm, so we can talk things out instead of spiralling into a screaming match. When we are on the defensive with our partner, criticising or reacting to every word they say, we can miss what’s really going on for them. We can miss their experience, what their trigger or hurt was and what they were really asking of us? As we cultivate an atmosphere of curiosity, openness and empathy in our communication we can develop greater insight, and compassion towards ourselves and those we love.
I have been using mindfulness practices with couples as a way of raising awareness around reactivity, de-escalating conflict and deepening understanding. I am passionate about communication that nurtures wellness and deepens understanding in relationships.