How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Relationship
CategoriesMindfulness / Relationships
Your partner knows how to push your buttons. After all, you hired him/her to do exactly that!
Whoa! What did I just say?
WHY OUR PARTNER PUSHES OUR BUTTONS
You chose your partner because they represent familiar; familiar pain, familiar emotions, and familiar patterns from your childhood. Your “buttons” are essentially automatic reactions to pain from the past. They wouldn’t be buttons if there was no prior pain associated.
You have so-called buttons because you have past hurt, perhaps childhood trauma or dysfunctional family dynamics.
Almost all of your buttons are connected to something from childhood. This means all those “silly” things you argue about with your partner are not silly or small- they represent underlying past pain that is quite BIG.
The mind (mostly the subconscious) gravitates to what is familiar because it is always easier; it is the default mode. It is the reason you don’t have to think about how to drive each time you get in your car. Some things we do, automatically happen thanks to the subconscious.
You know that when you turn the ignition, there’s a series of things that you automatically do (put the car in “drive”, push the pedals, turn the wheel) in order to manipulate the car in the direction of your destination. Similarly, when your partner pushes your button (the ignition), there’s a series of reactions, emotions, and thoughts that occur immediately following.
The mind is efficient!
Biologically speaking, familiar overrides even joy! That’s why we forsake changing our lives for the better and continue doing things we know aren’t good for us, but they’re familiar. It may be the reason we jump from a dysfunctional family relationship right into a dysfunctional romantic relationship.
Ideally, you would be aware of your triggers before entering a long-term relationship.
But we typically pick a partner who demonstrates familiar patterns and triggers, therefore we go from childhood hurts to being drawn to people who enable familiar hurts throughout our adulthood. Oh boy! Why are we drawn to pain?
We’re not necessarily drawn to pain. We’re just attracted to familiar and again, familiar overrides everything else.
WHY DO WE TOLERATE PAIN?
Why is pain the most familiar pattern and emotion? Why don’t we automatically sink into joy as our default?
Why is pain associated with love? Love is actually the most important emotion because as babies and kids, love is safety and survival. If you came from a dysfunctional family or experienced trauma, love also included pain (from loved ones like parents). For survival reasons, you came to accept love with a “cost”(pain).
I just explained every love story, love poem, and love song. There always seems to be an element of pain with love, isn’t there?
As children, we loved our parents…almost no matter what. We learned about love from them so the familiar pattern became, ‘it’s ok (normal) to be hurt by the ones we love.’
Past pain and trauma reflects the present pain we experience in our lives now. We probably believe that general idea, but have difficulty pinpointing where it shows up in our everyday life. It shows up in our relationships.
AWAKEN IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Relationships are a great way to see yourself- they can bring out the best and the worst, but always reflecting how we are on the inside.
The way to break free from familiar subconscious patterns like the pain-love association, is to get conscious. To awaken (a more spiritual definition) and to be mindful!
Mindfulness is contemplation and the cultivations of conscious attention. It is also a benefit from regularly meditating. It increases our awareness of what we are experiencing and allows us the space to decide how we want to act.
In the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, mindfulness was positively related to emotional skills and emotional skillfulness (“Mindful Relating: Exploring Mindfulness and Emotional Repertoires in Intimate relationships”, Wachs, Karen. Clark University, 2007). Emotional skills and mindfulness determined marital quality.
“The emotional challenges inherent in maintaining intimacy necessitate that couples will have to regularly negotiate such vulnerable emotional experiences as hurt, fear, and sadness in the context of their relationship.”
Also, how mindful we are of our own emotions rather than just getting triggered and reacting, indicates how emotionally skillful we are.
In your relationships, be aware/mindful of BIG EMOTIONAL REACTIONS. This is your clue it’s connected to something deeper. Why did that particular thing set you off? Reactions are the subconscious speaking. After an argument, altercation, reaction, or heightened discussion, ask yourself these questions then work on honestly answering.
- What did your partner do or say that upset you most after that encounter?
- How did you feel after what was said or done? How did your partner make you feel? Try to keep it to one or two emotions or one statement such as ,‘not listened to’.
- Have you felt this way before with anyone else or under any other circumstances? How often have you felt this way?
- Did you ever feel this way when you were a child? Did a parent make you feel this way?
- Now, breathe through the feeling. Take a few mindful breaths. Good!
In my own relationship, I had moments where I was the neutral observer (mindfulness) and noticed that ever so slightly my husband interrupted me almost each time I tried to finish a sentence during our arguments. Even if it was a small argument about “something silly” like laundry (true story).
This irritated me most! My reaction told me I felt that I was not being listened to. When I referred back to my childhood…Bingo!! There was a strong correlation. My parents continued to constantly override or interrupt what I said when I was a child well into adulthood. This was an ongoing pattern.
Now what? Disrupt the pattern. Communicate clearly and from the heart. Have a conversation with your partner during a more receptive time and let them know what you’ve discovered.
I went to my husband and told him when he does this (name the behavior- interrupt) it makes me feel (name the emotion or hurt- insignificant). It will typically be a childhood connection. If he could wait until I was finished talking and slow down when we are discussing something important, then it would resolve communication issues. Your partner of course has to be in a good space themselves to be able to respect your feelings and past hurt (or trauma). Also, invite him/her to do the same.
I still have to remind my husband from time to time to ‘stop interrupting’, but he respects it since he knows where it’s coming from.
This process requires being mindful and emotionally skillful about how we argue, and what triggers us? How do we communicate our emotions in relationships?
Furthermore, ask yourself if your feeling or statement is true. Am I insignificant? No, of course not. Why would I still feel this way from my past? Where else does it show up in my life?
Your happiness and relief from past trauma does not depend on your partner. Dig a little deeper with yourself. Get mindful and curious about what you could do to release these non-truths from the past.
Once you are aware of your triggers and the emotions connected to them, there’s many ways you can work to release them or lessen their power. For me personally, I could reverse my statement, ‘I am insignificant’ to a daily affirmation: “I am significant.” “I matter.”
When we know ourselves, we become stronger in our relationships. Becoming mindful and emotionally skilled requires practice, but it can take you and your partner from defend-mode to understanding.
Next Monday: (I’m off my “Meditations Monday” schedule due to a week of entertaining family from out of town). This coming Monday, experience a mindfulness meditation so you can practice your awareness muscle. Once you become more aware and conscious, you awaken to your life now rather than stay stuck in the past.
In the meantime check out this full length mindfulness meditation and soundscape for a pleasantly immersed mindfulness experience:
Peace and Be Well,