A Path for Couples: Practicing Mindfulness in Relationships
By George Taylor
Mindfulness is all the rage these days. You can find trainings in mindful eating, mindful dog walking, mindful car repairs, etc. But why is mindfulness becoming so popular in our culture, and how can it be used in your relationship?
These are key questions we need to answer, because being mindful is the most important task you need to accomplish to have a healing, growth-oriented relationship. It is the opposite of multi-tasking.
Mindfulness means carefully watching your own reactions to relationship interactions, communications and stressors. Without such awareness, I don’t believe you can change your painful, reactive communication patterns. If we pay attention to our breath, if we can keep our focus inside our bodies, we can begin to detect the small changes in our breathing that are signals our body is giving us about our relationship.
In a conversation with our partner, this tightness of the breath is often a signal of fear or separation. When we sense these feelings in our relationship, often a cascading set of emotions and body sensations starts to occur. For example, we might get angry, to prevent anyone from knowing we are afraid. We might cry when we actually feel angry. Sometimes we make up a story about our partner (projection).
This set of cascading feelings and mental activity is what I call a “pattern.” Most couples have a few predictable, interacting patterns that cause much of the struggle or separation in the relationship. Without awareness of the breath, and awareness of the body, we can create these patterns over and over, for decades.
Mindfulness is the doorway to changing these conditioned responses. Once we see our own behavior, we can begin to make better choices. When we conduct our relationships with more awareness, we create more positive feelings of more ease, generosity and kindness.
Ten Practices for Couples
The Ten Practices contained in my new book, A Path for Couples, are a training program that can give you the benefits I have mentioned. They have been created using important ideas about relationship, mindfulness and consciousness that have only recently begun to permeate Western culture. Eastern disciplines like meditation have taught us how practices can train our minds to become more compassionate and aware.
I have adapted key ideas from these practices to a dynamic model of relationship with the idea that you and your partner can transform your partnership into a path of healing and growth. When you begin to work on your relationship using this new model, you experience more joy and vitality. And you create a healing alliance with your beloved.
This book describes a series of ten simple exercises for couples. Besides adapting powerful meditation and consciousness tools to relationship healing, the practices utilize the latest research in positive psychology and trauma work.
The practices were inspired by the thousands of couples I have met in the 25 years of my professional career. Maybe couples like you and your partner.
- You lead a busy 21st Century life. You are in a committed relationship. Some of you are parents. Most of you work for a living. You want to maintain stable, creative lives for your family.
- You may have noticed that you have certain predictable patterns of behavior with your partner when you are stressed or anxious. These patterns can persist in a relationship for years.
- You understand that the path of consciousness can help you transform these old patterns.
Important teachers such as Tara Brach and Stephen and Ondrea Levine have written about how the path of conscious relationship can also open us to deep knowledge of ourselves, to the greatness of the human heart, and to the rich, mysterious feelings of connection and creativity that we can experience with our partner. These feelings are the source of tremendous healing and awakening.
My wife, Debra, and I have been followers of this path for 35 years. We were young when we met, and like many of you, we needed help to survive and to thrive in our relationship. We immediately became more aware of our own reactions and patterns. Knowing we needed to change these painful habits, we followed our teachers’ instructions, and we adapted their wisdom to our own needs. We have done practices like the ones in my book hundreds of times.
We learned that our relationship can carry us towards a vast river of healing, beyond our habits and expectations, and into deep states of joy and consciousness. We know that we are similar to many people who pursue a path of liberation, people maybe like you who believe that you can become more open and more connected to your partner. But in your day-to-day lives, you often become so full of mundane errands that you rarely connect deeply. There is a hunger in your soul, which can be assuaged.
The 10 Practices in this book lead to freedom. Not just the freedom from bad communication habits we learned as children, but the freedom to blossom into your full capacities as adults — loving, energetic and wise. You can experience the vastness of compassion and forgiveness that are possible in your relationship. On this path, you unleash your natural creativity and positive energy in communion with your beloved partner.
What a great life calls to you!
Excerpted with permission of the author from A Path for Couples: Ten Practices for Love and Joy by George Taylor, MFT.
George Taylor, MFT, has been a licensed couples counselor for 25 years, and married to Debra Chamberlin Taylor, a Spirit Rock teacher, for 35. His great joy is in seeing couples find the deep well of love and laughter that a committed relationship offers to them. His work is described on the web at pathforcouples.com.