Jonathan Bartlett, MA, MFT View Entire Blog

Mindful Relationship Practice

The following three-step conscious partnership practice offers support in staying present and connected while dealing with relational stress.

Awareness of Self

Since we are most often occupied by thoughts, it is easiest to start a meditation practice by simply becoming aware that you are thinking. Right now you are thinking about this article. Perhaps comparing it to past articles you’ve read about mindfulness. Perhaps losing interest and considering whether or not to read just one more sentence before clicking the back button.
These are your thoughts:
“Hello thoughts.”
Don’t use attempts at mindfulness to abandon your thoughts! They are smarter than you and will always win the contest for your attention.
“Yes, thoughts, I hear you.”
Since sensations of pain and pleasure also rate pretty high on our list of preoccupations, let’s include them in this meditation as well.
“My stomach is gurgling. I should eat breakfast soon.
My back still hurts so bad. Let me just think about breakfast instead.”

Here’s a great mindfulness practice starter: How are your thoughts and sensations collaborating to give you an experience right now? Take a minute now to observe your thoughts and sensations as they take over. Set your cell phone timer if there is no clock in view. Make sure to allow a full minute before stopping.

Empathy With Other

Once you have allowed yourself some dedicated time to self, it may be a little easier to imagine the experience of your partner. If you find yourself saying that you have absolutely no clue what goes on in your partner’s head, don’t believe yourself. We are a social species. You have neurons in your brain equipped specifically for reading the thoughts and sensations of those you care about. These neurons have been picking up messages for some time now. Your body has been matching the gestures, facial features, and word choices of your partner with corresponding muscles, thoughts, and sensations within your own body. Although you are certainly not able to experience what your partner experiences, you have skills that can bring you much closer to understanding.

Don’t confuse empathy with the attempt to regain leverage or control of your partner! For the purpose of this meditation, experiment with focusing simply on their felt sensations and thoughts.
“ Her squint looks like she is worried."
"She seems to think she is all alone."
"She likes to hum.”

There is no responsibility to problem solve, only to note what you observe. Take a minute now to imagine and accept your partner’s sensations and thoughts. Make sure to allow a full minute before stopping. (This may seem like a very long time. If your mind goes blank, just wait patiently.)

Tending the We

In every relationship there are three parties involved; I , You, and We. People will typically take notice of the We of their relationship during times of intense connection. More frequently, however, the We is noticed by feelings of loss during times of disconnection.
“Hey, were you just checking the game on your phone?”
“When your mom’s in the house, it’s like I disappear.”
In many ways, the We of your relationship has moods and rhythms just like a person. It can get busy, grow silent, have cravings, become overwhelmed . . . all the strange, unexpected tendencies of a unique being.
Connection happens. Disconnection happens. Every relationship has its own patterns for successful regulation between the two.

Similar to the practice of empathy, tending the We involves temporarily setting aside all desire for control. It is simply a matter of taking a realistic reading of what your body senses about the relationship. How is it feeling? What might it need? Where does it want to go next? Take a full minute now to imagine and accept the experience of your relationship. (Once again, this may seem like a very long time. If you have a few extra seconds, make room for gratitude.)