Considering how much we need to get done on any given day, it’s no surprise that present-moment awareness is a real challenge for most of us. It can feel impossible to just “be here now,” to have full engagement with whatever moment we’re in, and not look ahead to what needs to be done next. Quiet moments, especially, seem ripe for filling with anxieties about some trial ahead, or for replaying (and perhaps regretting) a pivotal moment that has passed. This is why “monkey mind” always seems to strike at 3:00 A.M.
However, just because present-moment awareness (also known as mindfulness) is a challenge does not mean it’s an impossibility. Like every mindset that can improve your life and therefore your marriage, it comes down to a willingness, and then practicing it (and practicing self-compassion when we forget, because, inevitably, we will forget).
When we attempt to live mindful lives of full engagement, we open to the gift each moment brings, rather than simply try to collapse the present moment in a rush to get to some imagined place in the future.
Mindfulness is about noticing and appreciating the myriad of things that make up each moment, and that means the small things that are constantly unfolding between you and your spouse/partner.
To be a more mindful partner requires you to stop letting your thoughts talk you into the illusion of there being a better place for you to be in the moment, thereby sapping the moment of positive energy. Mindfulness opens you up to positive moments that may be slipping under the radar of your consciousness.
When we fight against what is, we set up a resistance mindset that prevents us from engaging in the moment, which ultimately, prevents us from finding contentment in the moment.
But why would I want to be more mindful of something unpleasant?
This is a question I often hear from the couples I work with in counseling.
Noticing each and every moment doesn’t prolong a particular painful moment, but it can actually help you process and release the experience because you won’t be resisting it; resistance adds layers of suffering onto what already exists. In short, it compounds your pain.
And at the very least, mindfulness can help you find more peace even in the moments you wish didn’t exist. This way of being is calm and steady. Because it comes from a centeredness—a natural place within us—it doesn’t need to prove anything, and it doesn’t need to defend against what is unfolding. When your partner says something that is hurtful, mindfulness of your pain gently guides you to communicate your needs clearly and lovingly without having to move into attack mode (which will ultimately make things worse). When you are more mindful, you will become a better steward of and advocate for your needs.
Noticing each moment doesn’t mean judging each moment. Noticing is neutral (and yet, it can make you happier…losing the habit of judging everything that happens as bad or good can free you from a great deal of negative energy). Noticing simple things like the rhythm of your breath, the beat of your heart, the feel of your hands in soapy water, your partner’s quiet presence…those simple, ongoing bits of non-agenda alertness to what’s around you and in you can pluck you out of the lose-lose cycle of I’ll be happy when _______ happens (or when ______ stops happening) and instead can wake you up to the hidden gifts tucked into the present moment, which, the sages say, is the only moment there really is.
What does this mean for your marriage?
It means making the decision not to coast. You may know your partner so well (or at least assume you do) that you think you can predict what s/he will do or say in any given situation. Although we all do that to some extent (and there is a valid place for assumptions in every marriage!), when you too heavily rely on assumptions and therefore shut down the possibility of being surprised, you slide into a form of mindlessness—you pin your mate in a definition that you created based on past behavior. Therefore, assumptions are past-thinking, not present moment awareness.
As you probably already know, intimate relationships take work. Work isn’t something we need to do all the time (or you’ll start to dread your marriage, will see it as a job instead of the joy that it’s meant to be), but expending thought and energy in your relationship can resuscitate a marriage that was headed for life support. Patience and the need to tolerate things that frustrate and bore you (since marriage will present frustration and boredom at times) are also central to the fabric of a healthy relationship or marriage.
What I’m discussing is related to both deliberate effort and patience, yet it’s different, too. Mindfulness is the pre-engagement work you’ll do on your own—you don’t need to be in a particular situation to exercise it (as you would when you’re practicing patience or effort with your partner). You become a more mindful person in the totality of your life (whether you’re with your spouse or not) so that when you do spend time with your mate, you are fully there.
Mindfulness in Marriage: Capturing the Small Moments
Practicing present-moment awareness can feel forced or unnatural at first. But stick with it. We’re conditioned to pay attention to the big moments, but the danger in that is we start living our lives that way, from one big moment to the next. That causes us to miss everything in between! And what happens if there aren’t any big moments on the horizon? Then we might feel dissatisfied with our lives, though we may not be able to identify why.
Rather than scanning the horizon for what might be coming down the road that would warrant your excitement, you’ll be looking at the present moment of your marriage. That makes you more fully alive to it and to your partner. Instead of mindlessly coasting in the moment, you’ll be living the moment.
And that can make all the difference.
Here’s to a more mindful marriage!
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured image courtesy of Blackzheep at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)