Marriage and Mindfulness: Paying Attention to What Matters

Are you robbing yourself and your spouse/partner of the gifts that surround you on a moment-to-moment basis?

We all have different expectations about what makes up a special moment in our lives and in our marriage or relationship. And, too often, we only associate special moments with special occasions—a  celebration like a birthday, anniversary, or achievement of some kind. This mindset (that special moments are only born out of special events) create blinders that obscure our vision and experiences.

This mindset-blinder prevents us from seeing the numerous day-to-day, “ordinary” (and easily overlooked) moments that are indeed special and meaningful.

Too frequently, couples ignore or discount the tapestry of opportunities that surround them, opportunities that if seen for what they truly are would feed their relationship. But for this relationship-nurturing to occur, you have to see the moments that continuously unfold between you and your spouse/partner—moments that are so expected (like your ability to breathe and walk and speak and touch…) that they no longer register in your consciousness.

Marriage Help and Mindfulness

Meet Joan and Rob…

Joan set up an appointment for marriage counseling because, as she described, “I’m tired of feeling ignored by my husband Rob.  It’s like I’m invisible to him and I just feel so taken for granted that I’m thinking of leaving him…”  The pain behind Joan’s words was palpable. Rob’s picture of their relationship problems confirmed his wife’s story of emotional estrangement, but they have different explanations for these marital problems.

The couple disagree on their expectations about what their marriage should look like: For Joan, it would involve daily acts of appreciation and caring—a deliberate effort to demonstrate the love they each feel for one another and a greater awareness of when these loving acts occur. For Rob, this is an unrealistic view of a marriage which is entering it’s twentieth year. His solution?  Joan should lower the bar of her relationship expectations—this would allow her to feel less disconnected and upset with him.

The divide between Joan and Rob is a significant one, but it’s not hopeless.

Joan wants a mindful marriage, she wants to celebrate the small gifts of appreciation and caring, and she eagerly recalls the shared gratitude they felt for one another when their marriage was in its infancy—a gratitude that seemed to occur naturally.  As she shared, “I’m ready to pay attention to the small things that matter, that happen each day, and I need Rob to join me in this process. We did this in the past and we can do it again, but I can’t do it alone…”

The good news is that Rob, despite his complaints, is ready to join Joan in the change process. And his first step in this direction is a big one: He began keeping a daily gratitude-journal where he writes down all the small, loving gestures he and his wife make toward one another. While this hasn’t fixed all their marital problems, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. As the once-cynical Rob shared, “I have to admit, I didn’t realize all the things I’ve been overlooking…I guess when you totally expect something positive to occur, it only registers when it doesn’t occur. But since keeping the gratitude journal, it feels like what Joan is doing now matters because it is occurring and that’s making me feel much more positive about our relationship.”

Rob is becoming a more mindful husband, mindful of the small gifts that occur on a daily basis: a smile; supportive, loving touch; a kind word and gesture; mutual support; encouragement; expressed thankfulness; honesty…The list keeps growing as Joan and Rob make the decision to attend to the moment-to-moment experiences they share each day.   

Marriage/Relationship Help Action Step

Relationship gratitude experiment: 

Are you ready to join Joan and Rob on their journey to a more mindful marriage?

For at least one month (that’s how long Rob has kept his journal at the time of this article), write down 3-5 things you appreciate about your spouse/partner each day. Keep it simple and keep it small.

And don’t let your expectations stand in the way of including something in your journal (for instance, rather than expecting your partner to take the kids to school twice a week before heading off to work just because you drop the kids off on the other days, include this on your list each time s/he does it and think about what it would be like if s/he couldn’t do it for some reason).

At the end of each day, share your list with one another, expressing verbally the appreciation you feel. Then repeat the next day and the one after that and the one after that…

Wishing your marriage and relationship all the best!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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