“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment non-judgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
“The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.” Jon Andre
My husband and I are currently taking a meditation class together. If you have never tried meditation, I encourage you to go to a meditation class or download a meditation app. It can be a life-changing practice that helps us to still our mind and body, in a world that is moving too fast. Meditation can improve your life by reducing stress, improving concentration, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, increasing self-awareness, boosting happiness, fostering acceptance, slowing aging and benefiting the cardiovascular and immune system. In my own life, meditation has helped me to be more mindful and aware of the present moment. It has even made me more in tune with my thoughts, words, and actions towards others.
In our most recent meditation class, my husband entered the class with his ball cap on. If you have ever attended church, you may or may not be aware that there is an unspoken rule that men don’t wear ball caps, because it might be construed as disrespectful. Like the church, meditation is a spiritual practice and so when I saw my husband’s ball cap, I was inclined to tell him to take off his cap. But before these words came out of my mouth, luckily my mind stopped me from speaking the words. And this took some effort on my part because everything in me at that moment wanted to fix my spouse. But I knew it was important for my husband to have his own sense of autonomy. I recognized from somewhere deep down in my gut that I didn’t need to micromanage my husband, and so I held my tongue.
Funnily enough, after I decided to let this go, someone else walked in the meditation class with a hat on. And who said you can’t wear a hat in meditation or church anyway? This experience prompted me to ask myself why I thought I needed to be the meditation police. Meditation is supposed to be a judgment-free zone and here I was starting out the class by judging my spouse. I realized I needed the meditation class to start pronto, so I could find a place of self-acceptance for both myself and my husband. The degree we judge others often correlates with our own self-judgment.
Thankfully during this instance, I was self-aware enough, to not verbally confront my husband for simply wearing a hat. If I had done this, I would have been trying to shape and mold him into my idea of perfection. But even though I did not become the hat police on this occasion, I know there are other times when I am guilty of trying to whip my husband into shape. For example, I have noticed myself at church elbowing him, when he is not praying the prayers or singing from the hymn book. And even when I give my husband a hard time in a fun and flirtatious way, I am aware I am sending him a subtle message that he needs to be perfect.
Have you ever witnessed someone correcting their romantic partner?
If you have, you might notice the receiving party cringe their face in anger, or maybe they have a saddened and downcast look. The bottom line is that it doesn’t feel good when someone tries to control us. It is even more difficult when our romantic partner tries to correct us because we feel like they are not accepting us for who we are. This is supposed to be our safe person, who we feel more accepted by than anyone else. It can be easier to take constructive criticism from a boss, than it is to accept this from a spouse, because we want our romantic partner to accept us, with warts and all.
How to avoid picking faults in your partner
It is easy to get in a cycle of disparaging our partner for failing to take out the trash, not kissing us the right way or eating their dinner too quickly. But when we constantly critique our loved one, we are sometimes seeking perfection and control. But we will never have a perfect partner and we will also never be a perfect partner. I am not saying it is not important to express to our partner what we need from them, but when we do this we must do it kindly. We also must allow our partner to be imperfect. When we expect perfection from ourselves and others, we set ourselves and one another up for failure. How can we be mindful to not constantly berate our partner?
What to do when you feel triggered
Take a moment to imagine yourself being triggered by your loved one. They have left their wet towel on the bed again (pick your own example) and you are livid. You start to feel the anger bubbling up inside you and even though you are generally a kind person, you turn into a monster. Your partner enters the room and you say, “And yet again, you have left the wet towel on the bed. Are you freaking kidding me!?” Visualize how these words might shut down your partner, so they don’t even hear you or perhaps this puts them on the defensive and they start to scream back at you.
Responding mindfully to difficult situations
Now consider how you might respond to this same situation in a more mindful way. You see the wet towel on the bed (or your own scenario) and you take several deep breaths, in and out, to calm your nervous system. You take a moment to be mindful that your partner is not perfect and either are you. Mindfulness can help us to observe our thoughts and emotions, without being ruled by them. You calmly and kindly tell your spouse, “I just noticed a wet towel on the bed. I know you were probably in a hurry getting out the door this morning, but it means a lot to me when you remember to hang the towel back up.” Obviously, our partner is going to be more likely to hear this mindful and kind feedback.
Mindfulness makes us aware
Mindfulness isn’t about repressing our emotions, but it is about being aware of the way we judge ourselves and others. Meditation is a great tool to help us to be more mindful, because when we sit quietly with our thoughts, we are able to slow down and pay attention to what is happening in our mind. Mediation familiarizes us with our many inner critical voices. It awakens us to our need for perfection and the ways we try to perfect our spouse and other loved ones.
We can be hard on our loved ones due to bad past experiences
How many times have you found yourself saying something you later deeply regret? And why are we hardest on the person we love the most? I believe our most intimate relationships, whether with our friends, spouse or family, bring up unresolved issues from our past that we still need to work on. For example, in my childhood, my dad was an alcoholic and often my world felt out of control. As a child, I tried to exercise control by keeping the house clean. During my youth, I believed that if the house was perfectly clean, it would compensate for my dad’s lack of perfection. And now when I am being hard on my husband, I am aware that there is still a little girl in me, who is seeking perfection and working through these issues from my past.
Mindfulness mellows your need to control and awakens compassion
Mindfulness is a valuable tool to utilize in our relationship with our romantic partner. It helps us to become more centered and peaceful, so we can know when to let things go and when to talk things out with our partner. Mindfulness can keep us from criticizing, controlling and putting our partner on the defensive. Mindfulness alerts us when we need to hold our tongue and when we should speak up to our partner. For example, my husband’s choice to wear a ball cap during meditation was not something I needed to change. My reaction to him had to do with my own hang-ups and my own need for perfection. Mindfulness reminded me to back-off and to let go of my desire to fix him, especially when there was truly nothing that needed to be corrected. But sometimes we do need to share a concern with a partner, and mindfulness can help us to respond to our loved one in a compassionate way.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation affects your relationship positively
If we will practice meditation and mindfulness regularly, we will start to reap the rewards of these tools in our relationship and life. As we notice our thoughts and how they relate to our story and life, we begin to open up more with our partner about own inner critical voices and how we are trying to overcome them. This builds intimacy in our relationship. When we become aware of our judgmental voices, it can awaken us to our need to be kinder to our spouse, which will help us be kinder to ourselves and vice versa. And when we operate from a place of kindness, we will stop trying to control our spouse and expecting perfection from them. And the liberating part of this is that when we don’t expect others to be perfect, then we also don’t have to be perfect. Meditation and mindfulness are life-giving exercises that can help us in our romantic relationship, but also to become the person we want to be each and every day.