Mindfulness is a practice that connects you to your inner self and to the reality of the present moment around you. It frees your mind from unnecessary intrusions, including intrusive thoughts, misperceptions, and illusions.
But mindfulness is not just solitary meditation. The practice of mindfulness helps you connect with all living beings – including your partner.
Mindfulness benefits couples, both when practiced separately and together. A University of North Carolina study found in 2004 that mindfulness for couples improved “relationship happiness” and reduced relationship stress as well as overall stress.
Mindfulness exercises for couples
Basic mindfulness exercises center around the breath and the connection to your surroundings, using all of your senses.
Try to practice the breathing exercises together, to slow down, relax, and connect in a different way.
First, you need to find a quiet space where you will be undisturbed for about 20 minutes–or longer, if you like. Your relationship space needs to be safe and protected.
Then sit down opposite of each other in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
Pay attention to how your breath moves in and out of your body. Don’t force it in any way, your breath is doing what it does best. Just pay attention. With the breath you come alive.
After a minute or so, start slow breathing exercises, for example following the 5 – 5 — 7 method, where you slowly breathe in to a count of 5, then hold your breath for a count of 5, and then breathe out for a count of seven – the out-breath should always be longer than the in-breath.
If you really focus on your breath, your mind will automatically focus on the present moment. Distractions, worries, fears, and negative feelings will fade into the background.
The next step is to be open to the world and any way in which the world connects with you. Listen without judgment to any sounds you can hear, just notice them. You may hear your partner’s breathing and the small sounds she is making as her body shifts around on the floor. Don’t look yet! Stay relaxed, breathe deeply, smell the air around you, sense how your body feels inside.
Give each other the space to practice this first part of mindfulness at your own pace. When you are fully connected to yourself and to the present moment around you, open your eyes.
Look at each other.
Not in the way you usually look at each other, with all the baggage of memories and expectations. Look at each other in the same way you listened to the sounds of the world around you right now – with an open mind, without preconceptions. As if you were seeing each other for the very first time.
You don’t have to speak at all. Just be aware of each other’s presence.
(Just a word of warning: mindfulness for couples can lead to renewed and very enjoyable intimacy! Certainly a good way to relax and connect.)
If you speak, try to take the “open mind, no preconceptions” attitude into your conversation.
Try to get the essence of your partner’s words, don’t judge.
Mindfulness leads to good, deep conversations. Or you could just laugh together, or break into song…
Mindfulness in conflict – compassion and self-compassion
If you are in the throes of a relationship conflict, mindfulness can also be of great benefit.
As you connect with your own self, you will realize that you are a small person in a big universe, and you have suffered. Have compassion with yourself!
Look at your partner – he is also a person who has suffered. Self-compassion leads to compassion with your partner, something that is often missing in interaction between distressed couples.
With compassion, you can see that conflict is often a desperate attempt to connect. But if you don’t feel compassion, you see each other as enemies.
Mindfulness can help you realize that the enemy you sometimes see in your partner is really an unwanted aspect of your own self. In other words, you will recognize some of the patterns of your own mind.
20 minutes of mindfulness for couples doesn’t seem like much, but it can change your entire relationship dynamic.
For further information, please take a look at my specialty page on couples therapy.