Mindfulness is a set of principles often associated with individual health and well-being. What happens when we apply mindfulness to our relationships?
When you think about any relationship, you might spend time either fantasizing about the future, or recalling better times, past hurts, and regrets. When you’re busy thinking about those things, it’s harder to focus on the present.
Mindfulness invites you to put aside the future and the past, and pay attention to what’s happening now. For example, instead of thinking of your upcoming tennis game or doctor appointment, you can pay closer attention to what your spouse or child is saying to you in the moment. Doing so can change your experience of life by making it richer and more meaningful. It can also alter the quality of your relationships since being more mindful of other people will make them feel more noticed and relevant, which will make them appreciate you more. It has a circular, positive impact.
What are some practical things I can do to improve my relationships?
There are specific mindfulness practices that can help you generate compassion, or loving-kindness, as it is also called, not only toward those you love, but toward anyone. The practice is based on reciting a set of kind phrases toward yourself and others like, “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from harm, may you live your life with peace.”
You can mentally say the words to yourself a few times to develop compassion for yourself (may I be happy, may I be healthy…). Then repeat the phrases while thinking of someone you love (may you be happy, may you be healthy…), an acquaintance, someone who distresses you, and then everyone. Cultivating a generous mindset like this can change how you relate to others and to the world.
Listen before you speak
You can also apply mindfulness to relationships simply by practicing mindful listening and mindful speech. Mindful listening entails starting a conversation with an attitude of openness and curiosity, putting aside distractions (cell phone, TV), and focusing on what is being said rather than planning what you are going to say next.
Mindful speech requires being truthful, avoiding hurtful comments, and taking care not to exaggerate. Also, pausing before responding helps us in difficult conversations by decreasing impulsive, defensive, or aggressive comments, which may breed negativity and stress.
Integrating these simple practices into everyday life can generate healthier relationships. Engaging in more mindful communications can alter the quality of your relationships, and produce a ripple effect of kindness for you to enjoy.
Ellen Williams, PhD, is a psychologist and administrator at Baptist Behavioral Health.