We can all say that we’ve fought before. I am not talking about a full on fist fight ending in a bloody nose or in the emergency room. I am talking about verbal arguments. Arguments that have left you shocked, hurt, angry, betrayed or extremely sad. We may want to blame the other party in our argument by stating that they had raised their voice, said something utterly obscene or anything else we are able to come up with. However, it is important to remember we only have full control over ourselves. We have a choice to engage in an argument and we also have the choice to step back when the fire is hot.
When we are triggered by circumstances around us, there is really no telling what can happen. I have illustrated a scenario below that can relate to any couple.
Picture a couple, Joan and Jack, they have been invited to a close friend’s wedding. They have found a babysitter for their kids and are finally getting some alone time. Jack is particular about time, so particular that he has planned in his mind what their night may look like. The wedding starts at 8pm, therefore he will be ready by 7 pm with the knowledge that the venue is an hour away. He thinks that by being on time he and Joan will be able to leave a little early. Giving them a chance to stop for coffee and connect a little, while still making it home in time to relieve the babysitter on time.
Joan is not concerned with time or organization. It is 7 pm and she is nowhere near the house. She is not even aware that there is a wedding on this particular day because she is so consumed by her job. Meanwhile, at home Jack is waiting, becoming more and more frustrated as the minutes pass. Thoughts start to accumulate in his mind, “I told her to be on time today”, “I cannot believe this is happening again”, “She has no concern for me or respect for my time”, “Next time I will just go alone.”
When Joan enters the home, Jack is already in an escalated mood. He is experiencing feelings of anger and frustration combined with intense distress due to past situations where Joan has been late. He is ready to react to Joan’s late arrival by falling victim to inappropriate, intense reactions based on unresolved issues from the past (Firestone, 2015).
Sound familiar? Many of us fall into this pattern. We do not stop at a moment to really see what’s happening in our mind and body; we just react. Through our constant reactions, we end up creating more and more distress in our relationships. This ultimately creates the unhappy relationships we have been experiencing.
One tool that can help break the cycle is mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to calm down when distressed and be more fully aware of our physical and emotional sensations. This gives us the space to decide how we want to react in any given moment (Firestone, 2015). By acknowledging what is happening to our bodies when we get triggered, we can calm ourselves down faster and have a meaningful conversation.
We can then be mindful in the way we express our concerns to our partner. It is important to consider the impact words have on the person who they are directed to and how the person will interpret them. Important aspects of communication are, tone of voice, gestures and mannerisms. When we engage in conversation we usually will say the first thing that comes to mind, without thinking of how the other person will interpret what we are saying. Although we cannot control how people interpret our words, we can reduce the likelihood of being misunderstood through the use of “mindful speech”.Mindful speech is speech that expresses reverence for life, speaking only what is true and helpful (Guelph Meditation, 2016). Below is a list of guidelines to consider when practicing mindful speech (Burggraf, 2007; Guelph Meditation, 2016).
Mindfulness Speech Guidelines:
- Communicate with the intention to be honest and kind.
- Rethink what you are about to say before you say it.
- Select 2-3 places in your body where you can feel your sense of presence. These points will help you be aware of whether you are tense or calm.
- Choose your words carefully. Consider content, tone and clarity of what you are about to say.
- Communicate from the heart and be genuine.
- Speak slowly and stay mindfully connected to you body and heart. Ask yourself, “What might this person be experiencing?”
- Choose words that are loving, compassionate, and respectful. Try using a tone that is calm and nonthreatening. Consider whether the words are truth or opinion, helpful or harmful, or praise or criticism.
- Understand that sometimes silence is the best response.
- Practice radical acceptance. Forgive yourself and others for being “perfectly imperfect”.
Couples can also practice attentive listening. There are several steps to attentive listening, They are all designed to ensure you hear the other person and the other person knows you are hearing them (Mind Tools, 2016).
Active Listening Steps:
- Look directly at the speaker. Put aside any distracting thoughts and pay attention to persons body language.
- Use your body language to show that you are listening, use gestures when necessary. Be sure your posture is open and inviting
- Do not interrupt the speaker, interruptions are frustrating and limit your full understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish their point before asking questions.
- Be open and honest with your response and assert your opinions respectfully. Treat the other person in the manner you think they would like to be treated.
Dr. Daniel Siegel defines mindfulness as the process of developing an awareness of the present moment filled with COAL- curiosity, openness, acceptance and love towards one’s ongoing life experiences (Greenberg, 2015). Cultivating nonjudgmental, moment to moment awareness helps us feel less stress when conflict arises. Couples in mindful relationships take time to reflect, notice their feelings, and do not escalate behaviors, or actions that can damage the relationship. Through this practice, couples experience improvements in their relationship satisfaction.
Burggraf, F. (2007). Mindful speech. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from http://www.dayonepublishing.com/VMC/Exercises/MindfulSpeech.html
Firestone, L. (2015). How mindfulness can save your relationship. Retrieved May 23, 2016 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-firestone/mindfulness-relationships_b_3333709.html
Greenberg, M. (2015). How mindfulness improves your brain and relationships. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201509/how-mindfulness-improves-your-brain-and-relationships
Mind Tools. (2016). Active listening: Hear what people are really saying. Retrieved June 30, 2016 from https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm