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How to Bring Heartfulness Into Your Marriage

We often hear the words “mindfulness” and “compassion” as interchangeable, positive attributes to embody and integrate into our lives. Although complimentary, mindfulness and compassion are not the same.

Mindfulness is about maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, physiology, and surrounding environment. When we talk about mindfulness, we also hear the term “loving kindness.”

So, what do these words really mean, how are they interwoven, and why is practicing them within marriage so important?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. explains, “In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same. So, if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”

Simply put, by practicing mindfulness and compassion, you powerfully bring your heart and mind together as one.

Mindfulness in marriage is about being receptive to your relationship experience and being present without judgment, while loving kindness and compassion are about embracing the fact you want to be free of pain and suffering and that your true wish is to alleviate yourself, as well as others, from this suffering.

Why Do You Need Heartfulness?
So, why do you need heartfulness – that melding of mindfulness and compassion – in your relationship? Because relationships are hard! Applying heartfulness in your marriage can help you, as Dr. John Gottman explains, to soften your startup. You are more able to be present, aware, and attentive of what you communicate and how it impacts your partner when you are talking to them. Practicing this on a daily basis helps you to see things clearer, view interactions through a lens of kindness rather than judgment, and act with calm wisdom instead of reacting. Softening the startup of your communications with your partner in this way will lead to a more stable and happy relationship.

The Benefits of Heartfulness
Approaching your marriage with heartfulness will produce numerous long-term benefits. Here are a few of the positive effects it can have on you and your spouse:

• The ability to handle difficult emotions with greater ease
• New perspectives on stressful situations
• More fluid communications
• Improved emotional well-being
• Transformation of your potentially difficult relationship

Integrating Heartfulness Into Your Marriage
The key to being heartful is to actively listen to your partner with an open heart and without judgment. Instead of thinking of the next thing that you’re going to say, be present and compassionate to what your partner is going through and what they are trying to communicate. The only way to do this is to step out of your own story so that you can fully take in and acknowledge what your partner is experiencing.

Now, I’m not saying that stepping out of your story is easy. By human nature, we’re all susceptible to falling prey to our own self-defeating narratives. Getting unstuck from this place takes yet another level of heartfulness – one that is focused inward.

I’ve certainly experienced the challenge of focusing heartfulness inward. There were times in my marriage where I became frustrated and critical with my late husband, Steve, saying things to him that could have been delivered more mindfully. Luckily, he dabbled in eastern practices and psychology himself, so when he saw I was triggered he had the wisdom to gently guide me towards having more self-compassion. In these instances, Steve would remind me to get in touch with my feelings and say, “Why don’t you take a moment and give yourself some compassion and then we can revisit and talk about what’s bothering you a bit later?”

Stepping back and changing my attitude towards myself first allowed me to calm down. I could then, in turn, be more trusting toward my husband and move forward communicating more openly.

The next time your buttons get pushed, or you start to blame your partner for something, take the opportunity to give yourself some compassion first. Then, after you are calmly refocused, make the space and effort to re-focus some of that compassion and kindness on your partner.

Heartful Affirmations
Practicing heartfulness can be as simple as expressing loving kindness and compassion through short and thoughtful affirmations. The next time you are upset, try saying the following out loud:

To yourself:
• “I am filled with loving kindness.”
• “I am safe and protected.”
• “I will get through this.”
• “I accept myself just the way I am.”

To your partner:
• “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you find peace.”
• “May you accept yourself just as you are.”
• “May you be filled with loving kindness.”
• “May you live with ease and peace.”

The key is to find affirmations that resonate with you. Say these phrases softly, with a spirit of kindness towards yourself and your partner. Adopting a spirit of caring and kindness will make you feel more connected and most likely trigger a significant shift in your relationship. This shift will cause new pathways of understanding to open up, making you feel cared for, connected, safe, and protected.

Whatever your experience, commit to moving forward with mindful acceptance. Practice non-judgment and remember to extend equal amounts of compassion to your partner and yourself. Even though you may not always agree with or even understand what your partner is saying, integrating heartfulness into your marriage will enable you to be compassionate with each other in times of struggle and embrace the imperfections of your relationship with loving-kindness. Collectively, this is a powerful force for overcoming the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

As you can see, injecting your marriage with heartfulness – that powerful blend of mindfulness and compassion, towards your partner and yourself – doesn’t have to be complicated.  As Dr. Gottman says, “It’s the small things done often that make the difference!”

 

Resource: Gottman Blog

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Negativity and Relationships The None-Too-Subtle and Destructive Force of a Negative Attitude

Negativity is like cancer. Even if you do not notice the negativity from the start, it eats away at you, inside, until it affects every aspect of your life. Once this happens, it is difficult to find peace, contentment, or happiness, or even to see the bright side of a gloomy situation. Negativity not only ruins your mood and outlook, it adds undue stress that can lead to an untimely demise, and negativity has a lasting effect on your relationship as well. Negative and relationships is not a good mix. A negative attitude influences your life, but it also affects those around you. Your bad attitude can influence anyone you encounter, potentially ruining his or her attitude or whole day. And if your negative mood can ruin the mood of someone you are not close to, imagine what it can do to the people you are close to – especially your spouse or partner.

Negativity and Brain Science
Negativity destroys your own mind – thoughts, moods, attitudes, etc. – and it can be difficult to recover from long-term negativity. This pattern in thinking becomes a habit, and over time, it is nearly impossible to remember how to think optimistically or to change the pattern from negative to positive. That’s not to say it cannot be done; many people have successfully defeated this monster, but it takes time and effort to change your way of thinking. Most people, however, are so caught up in their pessimism, brought on by circumstances and poor coping skills, that they fail to consider or realize the influence their sharing of these thoughts has on others.

Negativity shared with another person not only brings them down as well, potentially destroying their mood and thought pattern; it also has a physical effect on the brain. The hippocampus – the section of the brain responsible for problem solving – shoulders the burden caused by negativity.  It takes a mere thirty minutes of listening to someone’s complaints and negative thoughts to begin destroying neurons within the hippocampus. Essentially, those exposed to the negativity find it difficult to think, learn, or concentrate, and the scientific explanation is that this destruction of neurons turns the brain to “mush.” In a manner of speaking, exposure to just half an hour of negativity makes people dumb. The destruction of neurons has some effect on intelligence, ability to focus, ability to reason, and problem solving skills. And even if a person’s intelligence doe not noticeable diminish, their brain is still affected by the dominance of negativity. It’s not really fair to expose others to your negative thoughts, given the effects they are bound to experience.

Negativity vs. Valid Concerns
Negativity and valid concerns are two very different things. Negativity is wrought with ‘poor me, pity me” words such as “impossible” and “never,” and inaction. Negative complainers rarely want to take action and make the effort to change things; they simply want to complain for the sake of complaining and for some attention. The old adage that “Misery loves company” is true, even if the Negative Nelly in question does not consciously intend to bring others down. Valid concerns differ because they are not wrought with negativity. They come in the form of advice-seeking questions or the need for a compassionate ear, followed by gratitude and a plan of action. It’s okay to voice valid concerns to your partner for the sake of their compassion and input. It’s the constructive strategy used to voice those concerns and the follow-up efforts employed that distinguish valid concerns from negativity.

Negativity and Relationships
Negativity often starts small; internal thoughts that dominate your mind until you implode or explode. Eventually, that negativity is shared with others, most commonly your spouse or partner. Moreover, if this pessimism continues, it will permeate your environment, even disrupting or destroying the best of relationships. Those with already difficult relationships may not be capable of recovering from such a blow, at least not without professional intervention. Listening to your negativity not only destroys your partner’s brain, it also leads to disagreements and eventual resentment. Your partner may tire of hearing your pessimistic attitude and after dealing with it for a time and even attempting to be encouraging, they may find it stressful. At this point, they will probably wash their hands of the issue, resigning to live with it or to cut and run. If they choose to just live with it, odds are they will not be happy. And if they run, well, much of this may have to do with some resentment.

Negativity is selfish. It is not encouraging or uplifting to your partner, and this self-absorbance leads many partners to believe that their significant Negative Nelly is not ambitious or action oriented and has no desire to change their way of thinking and no desire or time to consider their partner’s thoughts or needs as well. Even when love is present, negativity is a devastating blow that must be conquered or lead to reevaluation of the relationship.