Have you ever thought about your relationships? I mean really sat down and thought long and hard about what your relationships mean to you, where they are at and where they are going. Have you ever considered the part that you play in the success or failure of past and present relationships and how they played out?
The Garden of Love
The Stoics believed that a rational and reasoned human being sought to derive the best possible outcomes in a mutually beneficial relationship. People do not exist for our own sake, we exist for the sake of each other. We are meant to be interdependent units that live in a system that depends on cooperation and collaboration between us and others; between human beings.
One could argue that the Stoics advocated “mindful relationships”. They believed that relationships were cultivated like a garden. With mindful effort and the correct amount of attention, sunlight, water and nutrients the garden will grow and prosper while the garden that is neglected will wither and die.
Mindfulness and People
Relationships can be challenging but also very rewarding. People that actually take time to reflect on their relationships and the way in which they manage them are more likely to create positive partnerships. One of the ways which we can recover a failing relationship or improve an existing one is through mindfulness. First we need to consider what kind of relationship we are in and where improvements are required before we can take meaningful action to improve them.
There are three types of relationships which exist and each is directly correlated to the degree of mindfulness generally applied:
1. Co-dependent relationships
Co-dependent relationships are based on an imbalance between two people that results in a dysfunctional dynamic. Usually this manifests as one person being over reliant on the approval of another. Without that recognition and approval the person feels invalidated, unloved or unwanted. Often these relationships are prone to subtle or open abuse by one party on the other usually without much resistance. The abuse is tolerated for the sake of the relationship. Because the person feels trapped in it they are unwilling or unable to demand change or leave. Mindfulness is not a factor in these relationships.
2. Independent relationships
Independent relationships are those in which both parties in a relationship are happily going about their own business without requiring the consent or support of the other. Often people in an independent relationship will appear to be living “separate lives”. They are on different wave lengths in their respective professional lives, personal interests and even family activities. A stable medium may exist for years but such couples generally drift apart after a while and find that they have little to nothing in common when they are forced to confront their relationship and face each other.
Married couples who dedicate all of their time and effort to raising kids and pursuing career and financial goals for example fit in to this category. When the kids flight the nest and retirement looms they are virtual strangers as they have failed to nurture their own relationship over the years. The degree of mindfulness in this relationship is low and based on ensuring that the other person is there and capable of functioning in their “role”. Life is purely one of routine and rushing from one thing to the next.
3. Interdependent relationships
Interdependent relationships are mindful relationships because partners understand, know and appreciate each other for who they are and what they bring to the relationship. Each is free to be their own person but at the same time they are there to support, validate and nurture the other in their own aspirations. Communication is the key foundation in the interdependent relationship as is the acknowledgement of the others views and needs. An open team approach resides over the relationship where each works with, not against the other. A dominant party does not exist as each are equal partners. Mutual trust and respect is a natural outcome. Such relationships are compassionate and honest and built to last.
Mindfulness for Life
In 2004 a study conducted by the University of North Carolina found that couples who practiced mindfulness saw real improvements in their relationships. The practice of mindfulness meditation also resulted in significant reduction in levels of stress and interpersonal conflict within the relationship. It could be argued that mindfulness could be the relationship therapy that many of us need.
A book was published in 2016 on the subject called “Mindful Relationships” (Exisle Publishing) by Dr Richard Chambers and Margie Ulbrick. The book explores “how we can use mindfulness to:
- develop a more compassionate, friendly relationship with ourselves and others
- increase awareness of our own and others’ relational patterns
- calm and soothe our emotions and be there for others
- communicate more effectively
- enhance connection and empathy
- reduce defensive patterns, allowing for more authenticity, and
- work effectively within families and larger systems such as workplaces.
Case studies are included throughout to highlight key principles, as well as practical exercises to enable the reader to develop their mindfulness skills”.*
Mindfulness meditation** and recent modalities like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ***are two easy and practical ways to improve quality of life. Mindfulness techniques can be applied to help with physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well being and personal development. To draw a Star Wars parallel, Yoda would have been an expert in mindfulness and given his age and general happy disposition and vitality the benefits of the practice clearly paid off!
By practicing mindfulness we are more likely to be in tune with our own feelings and the feelings of others. This opens the way for understanding and empathy. We begin to appreciate the needs of the other person and focus less on our own needs. As we start to pay more attention to our partner we find that it is reciprocated in return. Emotions can be played out in constructive ways. Rather than getting angry and resentful about our partner we can actually express ourselves in an open and transparent way. Through effective communication and active listening we engage in dialogue and come to mutual understanding. No one likes to be shut down or blocked out by their loved one. Mindfulness encourages us to engage with our emotions and with people in a calm and measured way without compromising our values.
Meditation is the most effective approach to cultivate mindfulness. The beauty about meditation is that it can be done alone or in group or as a couple. The intimacy and shared experience of meditation can build a stronger bond between people. The practice allows us to pay attention to our thoughts and remove the noise from our mind allowing us to be more open to others. We achieve a greater sense of inner peace and tranquillity. If those around us also meditate and practice mindfulness we begin to reside on similar mental wavelengths. Harmony is created. I believe that partners who meditate together are more likely to stay together. So if your partner is up for it, meditate and tend to your garden
“You will know (the good from the bad) when you are calm, at peace, passive” – Yoda
***https://thehappinesstrap.com/ (The Happiness Trap Book)