Relational Mindfulness: How to Bring Attention and Awareness into Your Relationships

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August 27, 2020

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When I was a young, and frankly a clueless mother, I took a parenting class with a brilliant child development specialist.

One of the things my newly found mentor said was that whenever we took the low road instead of the high road as parents to “repair the rupture” with our child as soon as the shouting was over and tempers cooled.

Wiser words have never been spoken. The ability to mindfully reflect and honestly talk with my daughter about whatever fight we’ve wound up in has kept our relationship reliably close. Parental and teenage apologies are necessary, too. But all of it benefits from mindfulness.

How Mindfulness Brings Awareness to Our Relationships

We often think of mindfulness as something we do when we sit still and close our eyes. But mindfulness is more like a trusty backpack – something we carry around with us and continually use. And mindfulness is certainly worth unpacking in our relationships.

When we bring our full attention and awareness into our friendships, marriages, and work relationships it’s “relational mindfulness.” Relational mindfulness is based on the understanding that the subtlest form of love is attention, according to Deborah Eden Tull, a meditation teacher and author of “Relational Mindfulness, a Handbook for Deepening Our Connection to Ourselves, Each Other and our Planet.”

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Bringing attention and awareness into our relationships can take myriad forms and has multiple benefits. Perhaps one the most profound is that by being more fully attentive to each other we can love and understand each other more completely.

A small example: In the waning days before Zoom school was the norm, my husband suggested I bring a Vitamin Water when I picked up my daughter from school. It wasn’t the norm for me to do so.  When I asked him why, he mentioned that she’d likely be thirsty after her last class that day, which was P.E. He had been paying close attention and had found a small way to love her.

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Mindfulness Helps Ease Friction in our Relationships

Mindfulness also is incredibly useful when we’re not so loving. We can take a step back and reflect on our behavior, such as when we aim to repair a rupture with a child, friend or spouse, and allow it to guide us into a heartfelt conversation. We can bring mindfulness into the heat of the moment, letting it tell us when we’re too stirred up with emotion to be in the same room with our partner let alone talk to them constructively.

As a result of practicing mindfulness in general, we might find it spontaneously showing up in our relationships. Sometimes we’re struck by a bolt of insight that suddenly illuminates our most ingrained and unskillful ways of relating to each other.

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Years ago, my best friend and I got into a row. After taking a brief break from each other, we decided to have a heart-to-heart. With our full attention, we listened to each other and as a result, gained valuable insights that made our relationship stronger. I learned that she was raised in a family that avoided conflict– especially the kind that comes with raised voices – and discord of any kind triggered her. 

When she didn’t keep her commitments to me I felt disregarded. That conversation opened the doorway to a new way of brokering future disagreements and infused the relationship with mindful communication. We haven’t had a fight since.

Bringing the practice of mindfulness into your relationships, though, doesn’t mean things will always go smoothly. We’re all so human. What it does mean is that whatever conflicts arise you’ll likely enter them with a lot more awareness and loving attention. 

3 Ways to Integrate Mindfulness Into Your Relationships

Below are three ways to bring mindfulness into your relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.

Mindful Listening: Most of the time when someone else is talking, instead of giving them our full attention, we’re planning what we want to say or making out a grocery list in our head. Next time, you find yourself in conversation with someone, set aside your agenda, and devote your full attention to them. Being deeply listened to is so much like being loved that most people don’t know the difference. 

80% Out and 20% In: When mindfully listening to others, most of our focus is on the person doing the talking. But it’s also helpful to reserve a bit of attention for ourselves, noticing sensations in the body and thoughts flitting through the mind. Doing so, allows us to readily detect when we’re getting bored, perturbed or feeling filled with kindness. All of it allows us to respond more lovingly to ourselves and others.

The Mindful Do-Over: Mindfulness is a present moment awareness. But we can use the awareness that mindfulness grants us in the present to reflect on our past behavior. And when we’ve acted poorly we can make amends. As my parenting mentor says, it’s never too late to repair a relational rupture.

Ever wondered how mindfulness actually impacts our brain and physiology? Find out in our How Changing Your Brain Changes Your Life on-demand content!

Written by Kelly Barron, eM Life teacher