When it comes to relationships, one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is they neglect to tell their partner what it is they really need. And I don’t mean a holiday or a new pair of shoes – although, they’re nice too.
I’m talking about being open and honest with your partner. Telling them what you need on an emotional level, and explaining how you really feel about things.
Opening up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with our partner can be a powerful way to deepen the bond, strengthen the connection and build trust.
But it’s a team effort. Both parties need to continuously work, to make things ‘work’.
When one or both partners don’t allow themselves to open up, share feelings or connect on a regular basis, the relationship can very quickly get stuck on autopilot.
What do I mean by autopilot?
The more time we spend with our partner, and the more intimately we get to know one another, the easier it is to become complacent. We get lazy, cut corners and make assumptions about how our partner is feeling.
When that starts to happen, it can very quickly erode the good will between you. It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable with another person. When we do we want to feel supported. If we feel ignored or slighted our defenses go up and we find ourselves pulling our vulnerability away to a safer distance.
Rightly or wrongly, we can start to make assumptions about how the other person feels about us, which can ultimately affect our own self-worth. Then every time our partner says or does something that makes us feel vulnerable, we either lash out or pull away. If we don’t take time to repair the rift it can be a vicious cycle.
Does this sound familiar?
You walk into the bathroom to find a wet towel lying on the floor. You see it and you instantly see red. The thoughts in your head loop on different versions of:
“You did it again!
How could you?!”
“You left it for me to pick up, again, you lazy sod!”
There may be a few other fruitier phrases going through your head at this point, but you get the picture. Whatever the words, the feelings are the same – angry, hurt, betrayed.
The funny thing about us humans is that we tend to be really good at making up our own meanings. We usually do this based on past experience and how we felt about the situation in the past. You may be cursing your partner in your head about the towel, but when we drill down, we’ll probably discover that we really feel like the other person is doing that to us because deep down they don’t respect/value/love us.
You may have had countless conversations or silent battles involving wet towels purposefully left by you as a reminder of all that is wrong with your partner’s personal hygiene standards, and yet they’re still doing it! Despite the fact they know how it makes you feel.
Now I’m going to have to break it to you. The ‘towel’ battle may never end – sorry. Even therapy can’t fix problems like this. And it’s not because us therapists endorse your partner’s low hygiene standards. It’s just that we’re not that interested in who’s right and who’s wrong.
What we are concerned with is the way the two of you handle the situation between you. A therapist will give you and your partner the tools to approach difficult interactions in healthier ways that leave you both feeling validated and understood.
So how can we take our relationships out of autopilot and into mindfulness?
Think big picture. It may help to see your relationship as a separate entity between the two of you. See the problems in the relationship, not in each other.
Treat it with respect. Allow enough time and attention to tend to your relationship properly. When we’re acting from a place of good intention and mindfulness we start to see ourselves, our partner, and the relationship, a whole lot more clearly. Once we’re clear on what we want, and where our partner is coming from, it’s easier to find the middle ground and calmly work through problems from a place of mutual respect.
Look for clues. When we’re acting on autopilot we miss vital clues about the other person’s feelings and needs. We project our feelings onto our partner and make assumptions about them. Sometimes when we’re operating on autopilot, things can blow up in our relationship that we never even saw coming. By being more aware of our partner’s needs we can build a deeper connection. If you’re not sure what your partner needs, ask.
Be present. This involves having awareness of ourselves, others and the dynamics of the relationship. Be mindful of how the other person is responding (their body language, tone of voice, emotions) the mood of the interaction (happy, sad, tense) and your own thoughts and feelings.
Couples counselling can really help improve the health of your relationship by removing assumptions, dealing with unresolved rifts, working to shift out of an autopilot state, and strengthening your communication for a deeper, more meaningful connection.
Now I’d like to hear from you.
What are some ways you could implement more mindfulness into your relationship with your partner? Is there anything you’ve tried that has worked? Is there anything that just didn’t work? Why not?
Share below, I’d love to hear from you!