Mindfulness is becoming increasingly well known in the west, and it utilised in spiritual and religious practice, but also in physical and mental health care, social services, education, even in the military and business worlds. Mindfulness can also help your relationship, and you don't have to see a couple's therapist to get these benefits.
The basic practice is to be still, bring a relaxed yet focused attention to your breath, and gently release distracting thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Try doing this for ten minutes. It's endlessly subtle, but you can do it. Release any judgements about whether you're getting it right, or what it's supposed to feel like.
Try doing this for ten minutes with your partner, then spending ten minutes after that by using the calm non-judgemental mind that you've cultivated, to talk with your partner about the important stuff. Stick to the time limits, and take responsibility for your own mind. When you get pulled into judgements or reactivity, let go!
Let me know how it went by leaving a comment, or sending an e-mail.
Addiction has some common themes, regardless of the object of addiction. It often lives in the middle of intense, mind bending denial. It is fed by and lives in shame and guilt. It is fiercely protected by the person who is addicted, and it is often the very last thing to be sacrificed. It is incredibly contentious, and often better to not call addiction at all - after all, who wants to be the implied "addict." Often in the focus on addiction, those who are missed are the partners, children, and family of the person who is addicted. If that's you, these are some points to consider:
You are powerless over your loved one's addiction, but you are not powerless. You have choices that you may not be able to see, and you may benefit from working with someone who understands relationships and addiction.
You have probably become incredibly adapted to living with the addiction, by small increments, over a long period of time. You may not be living out of your own values at the moment, or even be sure what your values actually are.
It may help you to take stock of the impact of the addiction. Make a list of the ways the addiction but helps and hurts. You could do this in regard to the ways your loved one is helped or hurt by the addiction, but more importantly, do this list regarding the ways your are helped or hurt by the addiction.
I got to thinking about this after I heard that in relationship is the easiest place for us to hide our selfishness. Often we're so much more ready to examine other parts of our lives. It might seem self evident, or strange to ask the question: what is my relationship dedicated to? Is it dedicated to comfort, stability, pleasure, love, intimacy, liveliness, predictability, perfection, appearances, spirituality, fending off loneliness, filling a void? What's the default thing that my relationship is dedicated to? What would I actually like to dedicate it to? Have I ever discussed this with my partner? Would I be willing to do so?
Lots of people are waiting until their relationship gets bad enough to leave. It's sad, painful, but I suspect not uncommon for at least one partner to be doing this weighing up on a daily or weekly basis. More constructive is to be considering, have things gotten bad enough for us to get some couple's therapy? This is still a painful question to ask oneself, and each partner may have different degrees of willingness to try relationship counselling. Sadly, the number one issue for couples coming to couple's therapy is simply that their issues were workable, but they've left it too late. It's often the therapist's sad job to preside over the end of a relationship, rather than to help heal the relationship. We don't completely neglect our house or car until it explodes or falls down. We understand that these things require maintenance. How about our most important relationships?
Most of the time when we're in emotional pain, it's just thoughts. We build prisons out of our thoughts, and set our thoughts up as torturers, judges, and jailors. They're just thoughts, which means they're insubstantial, but it also means that it's difficult to dispel them, because there's nothing there. And the pain is real.
When clients of mine put their difficult thoughts or memories into words for the first time I'm glad. After expressing themselves my clients often reflect in some way that it makes the thoughts feel more real, and that putting the thought into words changes how the whole situation feels. The feeling, having articulated a haunting thought, is often one of relief, even when the issue that the thought is about hasn't been solved yet. It's so simple and surprising.
Often it's a natural progression from thinking, to saying, to doing something different. We don't know before we talk about the issue, how we're going to actually do anything different, so often we hesitate. Once it's out of our mouths, though, it feels different, so we act differently too. This process of moving from thinking to saying to doing might take a moment, or it might take years, depending on the issue. Once we're doing something different about our problems, we'll usually get different results. Even if we don't, we've empowered ourselves by being the change that we want.
We're all control freaks in relationships, whether overtly or in really subtle ways that don't look like control at all. To work with issues of control in your relationship, or to just have fun, try this. Buy a big roll of paper, or tape together a few big sheets of paper, get some large tubes of cheap school grade paint, and a range of cheap brushes. Set aside an hour to paint, together with your partner. it doesn't have to be beautiful, correct, tidy... in fact it doesn't have to be anything in particular. While you're working get into each other's parts of the artwork. Notice what comes up for you when this happens. Talk about it afterwards. You won't create a masterpiece, but see if you're able to let go of control a bit, and make a mess. If you feel drawn to do this again, you could agree on any topic regarding your relationship before you start. Then forget about it. Your artwork will still be a reflection of the topic you've named.Try trust, sex, aliveness, or intimacy, if you're not sure what to start with. Happy creating!
Most of us live in fear of the unthinkable. What if my partner cheats on me? What if people leave me, die, stop caring, change, don't change, judge me, etc? We spend a lot of energy pushing these possibilities away, but they still cause us anxiety anyway. A lot of therapy is about allowing ourselves to think the unthinkable, and to feel the pain, fear, or other emotions that are attached to it. Usually, to our surprise, once we've done this, and put it into words with another person, it feels better. Usually, thinking the unthinkable is actually easier than continually pushing it away. That's one of the reasons why therapy works.
Rituals that we actually recognise and deliberately practice are few and far between for most of us these days. Why that's the case is a topic for a whole other blog post, but it's safe to say that mostly we don't understand rituals these days, particularly how rituals might really help with our day to day challenges. Try this: pick an issue of difficulty for you and your partner, and try to together come up with a list of things that you would both like to commit to doing about that issue. Keep it short and simple, three to four points works great.
Some examples might be:
We commit to expressing our love and affection for each other.
We commit to working with anger as constructively as possible.
We commit to trying to understand each other more.
Make one time each week to say your commitments together, as a ritual. It will feel strange at first, but try it for a month, then ask each other if it feels like it's worth continuing. I'm betting you'll say yes.
Here are five things that you can contemplate when your relationship is triggering you. Take a few deep breaths, pick one from the list, and spend a couple of minutes with your pick. If you've done it, let me know this, do you feel slightly less crazy now?
1) My partner is crazy. He/she is actually crazy. At least some of the time. Why should I expect him or her to be acting reasonably when I've now admitted that they are crazy? Time to stop expecting him or her to conform to my idea of what's reasonable, and figure out how to make life easier for myself. Breathe it in and out: "My partner is crazy."
2) My partner is in his or her own world. I know that I carry a whole private universe around in my head, is it possible that everyone else does as well? He or she sees things differently from me, has different thoughts and feelings, in fact he or she is like a whole other private solar system rotating around a different sun. It can't be any other way, her or she is not you. Breathe it in and out: "My partner is in his or her own world."
3) It's not my job to make my partner happy. It's not my job to make my partner feel secure, loved, comforted, or special, either. And vice versa. It's not my job to do any of these things, but when this happens it's a pretty nice bonus, and when I'm not feeling pressured I might even want to do these things. Breathing in and out: "It's not my job to make my partner happy."