How mindfulness can help improve your relationships

How mindfulness can help improve your relationships

Mindfulness could be defined as a non-judgmental, intimate meeting with the present moment. It is an ever-unfolding awareness of yourself, others and life in this very moment.

A great mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”

Having a mindful approach towards life and relationships gives you an opportunity to leave your beliefs, preconceived notions and other limitations you had imposed on yourself and look at things, people, events with a fresh perspective.

A recent study has shown that mindfulness can immensely improve satisfaction and happiness in intimate relationships. Another study has proven that mindfulness is extremely useful also in workplaces. According to this study, mindfulness-based practices improve self-regulation of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, linking them to both performance and employee well-being in the workplace.

So whether you would like to improve your personal or professional relationships, it is worth making mindfulness your daily practice.

Here are five main benefits of mindfulness that will strengthen your relationships:

1. Mindfulness increases your awareness of yourself, others and the present moment.

Mindfulness practice makes you more aware of yourself, your emotional states and your suffering. When you look within and deeply understand yourself, you will automatically become more compassionate and understanding towards others.

Being really connected to the present moment also makes a huge difference in the quality of our relationships. Imagine that you are talking to your partner and they are constantly distracted by their phone. Most of us know very well how frustrating it can get.

Now imagine spending time with your partner being really attentive to what is happening to both of you in the present moment. No distractions, no mind travelling to the past or the future. You are fully aware of yourself and the other person right here, right now. Such mindful awareness and presence will undoubtedly increase the levels of happiness and connection in any relationship, whether it is an intimate relationship or a professional one.

2. Mindfulness regulates emotions.

Another invaluable benefit of mindfulness lies in its ability to help us regulate our emotional states.

Most of us know how easy it is to get triggered by other people’s words or behaviours. We stop thinking and start to react to what has been said or done without realising that our words or behaviours might be harmful to other people. Such reactive, fearful behaviour can destroy our relationships in no time at all.

Recent studies have shown that eight weeks of mindfulness practice helps shrink the amygdala which is the part of our brain that is responsible for hijacking the brain into a “fight, flight or freeze” response even when we are actually not really in danger. Amygdala makes us triggered and reactive to even the slightest sign that our well-being might be threatened.

What does it mean for our relationships? It means that when we hear/see something that our amygdala interprets as threatening, we shut down emotionally (“freeze”) or we become either aggressive (“fight reaction”) or run away from the situation (“flight”). None of these responses works well for us and for those close to us.

What mindfulness does is it takes some power from the amygdala so that it can’t overtake us and puts us in the “threat” mode when there is actually no threat to fear.

Less amygdala activity means that we have some space in our mind to realise what is happening to us, even when we get triggered, and choose our reactions more appropriately.

3. Mindfulness makes you more appreciative of people in your life.

Mindfulness doesn’t only improve your awareness and self-regulation, it also makes you notice all the blessings that you have in your life, including the relationships that you have.

Research shows that the practice of gratitude increases the feeling of connection and satisfaction the day after it was expressed. What’s interesting is that the increased satisfaction was experienced by both the recipient and benefactor.

Gratitude practice seems to be nourishing both sides, the giver and the receiver, not only in the context of relationships but in life in general. When we practise mindful gratitude, we gradually reprogram our brain to focus on the good, instead of the bad. This shift in how we see life and the world around us is beneficial for us and for the people around us.

4. Mindfulness lowers the stress level and makes you more authentic with the people close to you.

When you are constantly tense and upset, your bad mood certainly influences the atmosphere at home and at work. High stress levels mean that you are most probably more susceptible to mood swings and anger outbursts. Such volatility is not good for your mental well-being and it is certainly not good for the people around you.

When your stress level is not going through the roof, you can learn to become more connected to yourself and to the present moment. Mindfulness practices can help you do that. Once you calm down your mind and your body, you will be also more present and connected to your partner and other people close to you.

Once you calm down your nervous system, you will feel safe in the present moment and this feeling of safety will make you more open to seeing yourself and your partner through more authentic lenses.

The feeling of authentic connection will strengthen not only your intimate relationships but also your professional ones.

5. Mindfulness improves your communication skills.

Mindfulness makes you more open to really listen to people with an open mind and heart.

In his books, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that there are two crucial elements to successful communication. One of them is the ability to listen deeply. The other one is the ability to speak in a loving way.

“There are two keys to effective and true communication. The first is deep listening. The second is loving speech. Deep listening and loving speech are the best instruments I know for establishing and restoring communication with others and relieving suffering.

We all want to be understood. When we interact with another person, particularly if we haven’t practised mindfulness of our own suffering and listened well to our own selves, we’re anxious for others to understand us right away. We want to begin by expressing ourselves.

But talking first like that doesn’t usually work. Deep listening needs to come first. Practising mindfulness of suffering – recognizing and embracing the suffering in oneself and in the other person – will give rise to the understanding necessary for good communication.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, “The art of communicating”

6. Mindfulness reconnects you with yourself.

Good communication with others is rooted in good communication with yourself. You will never understand others well if you don’t understand yourself.

Self-understanding is the cornerstone of loving communication with yourself and others.

In his book, “The art of communicating” Thich Nhat Hanh says:

“Self-understanding is crucial for understanding another person; self-love is crucial for loving others.”

Mindfulness practices help you reconnect you with yourself and therefore reconnect you with others in an authentic, compassionate way.

7. Mindfulness makes you less judgemental.

When you make mindfulness your daily practice, you start to understand yourself and others much better. You are capable of looking deeper, beneath superficial judgements and preconceived notions and you start to notice who the person you are speaking to really is.

When you understand yourself and others better, you have less need to criticise others. You know that no one is perfect and everyone is fighting their own battles.

Such an attitude automatically makes others feel more comfortable in your presence. They simply feel safe with you. They feel seen and they feel heard.

Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully describes this nonjudgemental connection between people in “The art of communicating”:

“When you recognize the suffering in the other person and see how that suffering came about, compassion arises. You no longer have the desire to punish or blame the other person. You can listen deeply, and when you speak there is compassion and understanding in your speech. The person with whom you’re speaking will feel much more comfortable because there is understanding and love in your voice.”

Expressing understanding and love in how we speak to others will make our personal and professional relationships blossom. In the end, we all want to feel heard, understood and accepted.

Improving our relationship with ourselves is the first step to improve our relationship with other people.

Mindfulness will help you come home to yourself as you are in this very moment. Just close your eyes and focus on your breath. Your inhales and exhales will guide you back home to yourself and if you need any help with this process, listen to my meditation “Coming home to yourself”. My voice will help you calm down your mind and reconnect with yourself.

Once you align yourself with your breath, you will have an opportunity to look beneath your thoughts and understand your worries, habits, emotions better. Once you understand yourself better, you will automatically understand others better too.

Your relationships will blossom and you will blossom too as you will feel connected to other humans more than ever. You will feel you have a community around you to support you in the ups and downs of life.

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