Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Be Mindfully Married: How Thinking Improves Relationships

With the demands of everyday life, marriages often bear the brunt of whatever is happening in a couples’ life. Most partners in this culture handle a good deal of stress and not enough laughs. Often they keep promising to plan to be together, to take a weekend, watch a show but the recess bell never rings. Many are worried by the thought that at times, the person they love the most is becoming the person they like the least.

One possible intervention to restore and re-enforce a marriage is recognizing the connection between how we think and how we feel about our partners.

Consider Being Mindfully Married.iStock_000073582639_Small

Before you stop reading, consider that mindfulness, which has become part of our popular culture, essentially means being present in the moment. With breathing as a core strategy, it involves pausing to breathe so that you can take a moment to observe thoughts, emotions and sensations. While this does not equate to the mind control of those who spend time practicing and engaging meditation, it is an important first step toward what mindfulness expert, Elisha Goldstein describes as being mindful enough to take a moment to stop the slide into negative rumination and judgment. If you can stop to consider what you are thinking you may be able to change your feelings in that moment.

The Benefits

Without adding extra time and pressure to your schedules, you could improve the quality of your time with your partner by thinking about your partner at different times in different ways.

In her recent book, Turn Your Mate Into Your Soulmate, Arielle Ford addresses the thinking i.e. the myths and expectations that drive our negative feelings and judgments of our partners. Essentially she underscores that there is no perfect soulmate that exists and guarantees us a “ happily ever after.” The happy ending is very much a function of stopping to examine our own thoughts and responses to our partner. At times this invites a corresponding shift in our partner. Many of Arielle’s suggestions actually translate into ways of being “ mindfully married.”

Three Mindful Suggestions:

Great Minds Don’t Always Think Alike

  • When it comes to happy marriages, if two humans are involved—there will be differences.
  • Consider that according to marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman every marriage has at least ten irreconcilable differences– with money, children, in-laws, and the work/home balance leading the list.
  • Most people don’t differ to be oppositonal. Given inherited traits, family history and life experiences, they just see and do things differently.

In our refrigerator my full peanut butter jar lives in peaceful co-existence with my husband’s down to the last morsel peanut butter jar.

It is not having different views and opinions that stress or erode a marriage–it is a matter of how we manage those differences.

Your spouse suggests that you take family trip to Disney. The kids are the perfect age but as your partner is talking with excitement, you can feel yourself getting agitated by his/her disregard of the cost and your existing bills.

 Mindfulness expert Dr.Tom Clark, author of Moments of Choice, suggests that pausing to be mindful of feelings allows you to respond instead of react. It is not a denial of your feelings; rather it is investigating your feelings and the associated thoughts and choosing how to respond. Mindfulness offers moments of choice.

Maybe before you let the irritation take over, you pause to consider that your partner may not be good with money but is a really good parent. Maybe that feels like a good thing. Maybe it makes you think that you are a good team. Maybe it motivates you to consider working together to plan for Disney at a different time or in a less expensive way.

 If You See Something-Say Something

  • What are the small, automatic, almost invisible things your partner does for you in your life together that you rarely notice or mention?
  • One of the most common complaints lodged by both men and women when their marriages have eroded is the feeling of being unappreciated, of being taken for granted.
  • Unfortunately our best and worst trait as  humans is our capacity to adapt. We find a way to adapt and survive even under really harsh circumstances.  This trait becomes a problem when we adapt so well to our partner– we barely notice, much less appreciate, what he/she does.

According to relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, for every one negative feeling or interaction between partners, there must be five positive feelings or interactions. Stable and happy couples share 5 to 1 more positive feelings and actions than negative ones.

Before you are ready to mention another mistake, point out something undone, pass each other like strangers or feel your anger mount as you see the clothes on the floor…

Consider what your partner did for both of you that day.

Will it be mentioned?

Does it matter less than the clothes on the floor?

How Often Do You Give Your Partner a ‘Turn Toward Bid’?

When was the last time you just touched your partner’s arm, put your hand on his knee, smiled from across the room, whispered something funny, or looked at each other with memories of when you first met?

  • Marriage expert John Gottman calls these affirmations of connection turn toward bids.
  • Good relationships have more than double the number of turn toward bids than partners that struggle.
  • Being mindful of the impact of such small gestures on a marriage doesn’t have to take much time, but it can change the feelings you and your partner have for each other.

Arielle Ford would say re-thinking and reacting in even small ways can turn partners into soulmates–perfectly imperfect people who cannot live without each other!

Listen in to Arielle Ford on Psych Up Live