Imagine that it’s been one of those days.
You’re tired, cranky. You feel stressed and irritated. And, on top of it all, you feel like you’re the one doing everything -- at work, with the kids, and at home.
Then, your partner casually strolls through the door and says, “I thought you were planning to have dinner ready by 6 PM?"
In an instant, a tidal wave of thoughts and emotions washes over you. You feel the piercing sensations of anger rising through your belly and chest. Your mind swirls with thoughts like, “Why is it my job to cook all the meals around here?"
What do you do next?
The answer is determined almost exclusively by your level of mindfulness in that moment.
Without mindfulness, you might launch into a verbal tirade directed at your partner, pointing out all of their flaws and shortcomings. Or you might go with a subtler approach, storming out of the room in a passive-aggressive display of defiance.
With even just a little bit of mindfulness, however, a new possibility emerges. You catch yourself before reacting in these habitual ways. You notice the thoughts. You take a moment to breathe and watch the anger and irritation move through you.
And that gives you the almost superhuman ability to respond more skillfully. You might tell your partner you need a minute to cool down. You might tell them in a kind way that you've had a difficult day and you’re feeling triggered by their comments. You might ask to have a conversation about creating more balance in your roles around the house.
In short, mindfulness gives you a new and profound freedom: the freedom to respond skillfully instead of reacting in ways that lead to resentment, conflict, and a loss of connection.
So how can you bring mindfulness into marriage?
Mindfulness is like a muscle. In the words of Dan Harris, practicing it is like doing "bicep curls for the brain." The more you train this muscle of attention, the stronger it gets, the more and you can stay with even the most difficult situations.
But how can you train your brain? Establish a daily habit of mindfulness training. Carve out 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or more to build this muscle of attention by focusing on the sensations of each breath.
To learn more, here's a great guide to beginning a mindfulness practice.
Formal mindfulness training is great. But many people tell us they don’t have the time or motivation to do it. What’s more, the goal of mindfulness isn’t to get good at meditating. The goal is to bring more of it into the chaos of everyday life.
You can practice mindfulness more informally by paying attention to your body. When you’re pissed at your spouse in line at Costco or disappointed when they show up late, shift your attention from the wandering thoughts in your mind to what’s happening in your body.
Let your body be like an inner mindfulness alarm clock, reminding you to take a step back, take a breath, and become more aware of what’s happening in this moment.
Fear, sadness, disappointment, and anger – these emotions just don’t feel good. The moment they arise, we instinctually try to get rid of them.
In marriage, we try to get rid of them by lashing out at our partner in a misguided attempt to stop feeling what we’re feeling. Of course, that doesn't actually work, and it comes with all sorts of collateral damage to yourself and your relationship.
Mindfulness offers a radical alternative. Instead of trying to get rid of the emotion, see what happens when you allow yourself to feel it. When you feel the sensations of fear, for instance, stay present with them, allow them to change and move. When you feel sadness or anger, do the same. Notice that if you breathe and allow them to be, these emotions don't last forever.
This practice of welcoming and allowing uncomfortable mind states won't just improve your marriage. It’s a key to becoming more resilient and present in all areas of life. Because once you know how to surf the waves of sadness, fear, or anger, you begin to experience a life-changing realization: everything is workable. From this place of mindfulness, you can stay present with even the most intense thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
Speaking of mindfulness, we're thrilled to announce the launch of Nate'e new online course with Mindful Magazine called "There's Nothing Wrong With You."
It's a radical journey into this trap of unworthiness that so many of us fall into. And, in the end, it's full of practices and tools for shifting to a new, bigger, perspective that allows for greater presence and contribution in the world.
Nate's most excited about this course because it includes a number of tools, stories, and insights that he's never shared anywhere else.
Click here to get a 25% discount on the course.