What are the characteristics of a good relationship?

Couples that thrive, and partners who grow closer together over time have good amounts of these qualities: kindness, a willingness to listen, non judgement, empathy, thoughtfulness, goodwill, forgiveness and also being able to say sorry.

These relationship skills happen when we use the higher functioning part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the human brain supports higher reasoning, problem solving and the ability to regulate our own emotions.

These skills are sorely tested when we’re tired, had a stressful day, cranky or we feel that we’ve got too much ‘on our plate’.

 A willingness to listen to our intimate partner – an ability greatly enhanced through the practice of mindfulness – is usually the first one to fly out the door.

Why mindfulness is a ‘must’ in intimate relationships

Mindfulness is an ever-evolving practice of noticing our thoughts, emotions, or experiences moment-to-moment and returning attention kindly and without judgement back to the present when it wanders.

Picture this scenario. You’ve come home from a hard day at work, and you sense from all the body language without even a word spoken that your partner has had a tough day too whether at home looking after the kids, in an office or both. On those tough days all too quickly the caring question, “how was your day?” can descend into a fierce verbal sparring where each of you try to prove who really suffered the most, and who is most worthy of putting his or her feet up.

“You say YOU had a hard day! I had a meeting that went three hours longer than planned, two staff resigned, my computer crashed and I ate something ‘off’ at lunchtime.

This is not to say that you haven’t suffered! However, when we compete for attention in this way rather than listening intently and in a caring way we’re verbally spilling out from our own internal stress and we’re letting this get the better of us.

Locking horns from this place of mindless reactivity is detrimental to our intimate relationships.

Calming relationship ‘hotspots’ the mindful way

Consider this mindful approach. Your partner has just started talking about his stressful day. Through mindful awareness you realise that as he’s talking you’re reviewing your own challenges that day and recognise that your day was tough too.

You can feel self righteousness, impatience and anger arising. Perhaps even thoughts like, “he’s got it easy compared with what I have to deal with” or “I hope he doesn’t think he’s going to get out of doing the kids’ homework with them just because he’s had a hard day”.

Because you have been able to step back and notice these pesky internal ‘events’ you’re able to notice that they’re fuelling your fury. Instead you choose to step back from them even a little rather than getting entangled.

Rather than flying off the handle you say something like this, “Phew! Let’s just sit down and take a few moments together you and me. I’m feeling like part of me is still at work. I want to find some space to let go of this so that I can really hear about this day of yours. I’m not sure how good I’ll be at this tonight! But I really want to try because you, and how you’re feeling is important to me.”

When we use mindfulness in our intimate relationship we understand that it’s not what we go through in life but how we go through it. We have wellbeing already. We need to be asking “what am I doing to disturb this? What am I not paying attention to that I need to be?”

Mindfulness – a skilful relationship tool for intimate partners

Research shows that mindfulness meditation has many mental and physical benefits for those who are able to make it a habit in their lives.

These benefits include more focus and clarity, a readily-available way to calm ourselves down when stressed, and physically a more robust immune system

What’s often not realised is that these benefits flow on to our relationships.

Because we’re more in touch with our own emotions and needs but not lost or overwhelmed by them we are more able to understand and appreciate why our intimate partners think and feel the way that they do. This ability to be heard and understood is a universal human need. Relationships where this happens flourish.

Mindfulness – a skilful relationship tool for intimate partners

Love and closeness exist in intimate relationships when partners hear and understand each other in a deeply felt way.

Let me give you some examples.

Your partner tells you about something embarrassingly funny that happened to her on the way to work and you find yourself falling about with laughter.

You tell her how badly you’re still feeling because your project fell through and she feels a tightness or discomfort in the area of her physical heart as she listens.

Mindfulness expert, Saki Santorelli sums up the power of mindfulness here: ‘mindfulness…is a way of learning to treat ourselves with kindness & care that slowly begins to percolate into the deepest recesses of our being while gradually offering us the possibility of relating to others in the same manner’.”

As well as tuning in better to our partners’ stories and moods, mindfulness helps us to stay calm and centred when things get heated and watch that we don’t dump on our partner when we’re really upset about something else.

Because mindfulness trains us to be more present-focused we’re also less likely to get triggered by memories of past relationship hurts.

Mindfulness – a skilful relationship tool for intimate partners

To grow intimacy in a relationship using mindfulness it’s necessary to learn the basic foundations of this wellbeing practice so that you develop greater self awareness. These foundations include learning to meditate and how to use the methods of meditation in everyday life to better tune into your mind states and also to physical sensations when life gladdens you and lifts you up, and also during times of stress.

Couples who learn mindfulness together understand the self-awareness journey, and can support each other along the way.