Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Today I’m going to be talking about the best V-Day gift that you can give – whether it’s to yourself if you’re single, or to your partner if you have one.
That present isn’t chocolates, roses or even diamonds, but it’s the gift of awareness and presence.
Let me explain.
So many of us have lost touch with not only our partners, but ourselves. The world is so fast paced, technology is incredible, and we’re all hooked into our machines and phones. It’s really easy to forget about what’s going on within us – how we feel at a very basic level. We often go through the world on autopilot and unaware, just trying to get through to the next day.
Our culture encourages this sort of detachment. There is so much to keep up with and be distracted by, it is hard to get a handle on what’s going on within. Alternatively, we may ruminate and feel stuck on what’s going on within, whether we’re depressed or anxious or stuck with some kind of problem that we can’t solve.
Either way, it’s like we operate with blindfolds on, and lose touch with our very essence.
To be able to take a step back from everything and just notice what’s going on within, and be present with yourself and/or your partner is truly a gift.
Dan Siegel, MD, a renowned expert in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, talks about this a lot when describing his concept of mindsight: “our human capacity to perceive the mind of ourselves and others.” When we’re not able to do this – observe ourselves or our partners, essentially – we can get lost.
When we are out of sync with ourselves and operate without awareness, we are setting ourselves up for trouble
Couples come see me who are out of touch with each other, but what’s striking is how out of touch they are with themselves. No one likes feeling crappy, so we naturally protect ourselves against really raw & painful emotions by tricking ourselves into experiencing other, seemingly safer emotions. These secondary reactionary emotions may still be painful, but they’re a bit safer. Unfortunately, they keep us from ourselves and how we truly feel underneath.
For example, when someone at a very primal level is feeling pure terror that her partner just doesn’t care, she may have zero awareness of this underlying fear. Instead, she may just be angry all the time. People struggling with their relationships often tend to stay at this “upstairs level” of experience, without knowing what’s really going on inside of them. This gets them into trouble with their partners and with themselves. Expressing anger all of the time, when really underneath you are feeling scared that your partner doesn’t care, will likely push your partner away even more.
To be able to just notice that feeling of terror – and not get lost in it – is a skill, but one worth honing. It is basic “mindfulness,” which Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “paying attention in a particular way.”
When we are able to do this, we are no longer at the mercy of our emotions or thoughts, and we’re able to take a step back.
The practice of mindfulness meditation (just being present and observing) has been shown to have all kinds of positive effects on one’s health, both mentally and physically. Mindfulness can keep us whole when the world around us is trying to tear us apart. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most respected Zen masters in the world: “Mindfulness is like that—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”
But you don’t have to be a Zen master or even meditate to be mindful.
You just need to be able to take a step back and notice what’s going on. Take a deep breath and notice how your body feels. Are you tense? Do you have a knot in your stomach? What are you unaware of that you can find out just by checking in?
How can you be mindful in your relationship?
Stay present with yourself. Ask yourself how you are really feeling, underneath. Be honest with yourself. Check in about anything that you might be afraid of. We tend to run fastest from fear since it can feel like such a threatening emotion. If you are scared, just notice that. Try not to lose yourself in it.
It’s really easier said than done though. When your blood is boiling and you can barely breathe you are so frustrated with your partner, it can feel close to impossible for some people. This is why working with a therapist trained to help you get in touch with the stuff underneath can really help save your relationship.
The heart of Emotionally Focused Therapy is really about helping couples be mindful and present in their true emotions. When we’re honest with ourselves and each other, it’s a lot easier to get along or at the very least be on the same page.
Even so, you may not want or even need to go to therapy to help you with being mindful.
Here is one easy way that you can take action, without having to devote chunks of your day to mindfulness meditation:
Set an alarm on your phone to go off a few times a day and use it as a reminder to just notice what’s going on for you. When the alarm goes off, take a breath and check in with yourself. Make a habit of doing this.
Make sure to set the alarm for times when you’re with your partner, on the evenings or weekends, for example, so that if the alarm catches you in a fight, you’ll have no excuse but to take a step back, check in with yourself, and be mindful, even if just for a minute. Better yet, the alarm will ring when you’re in a really good place with your partner, and you’ll be able to notice that and enjoy it.
Making a habit of being mindfully aware is truly the best gift that you can give yourself and your partner not only on Valentine’s Day, but every day. It will help you be truly present with each other and enjoy your relationship at its best. It’s really not about the material stuff, it’s about being together.
Cheers to your best relationship, and hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!