Article by: Toni Parker, Ph.D.
It’s the small things done often that make the difference
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 practising 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 practising 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 judgement, 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.
By practising mindfulness and compassion, you powerfully bring your heart and mind together as one
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 start-up. 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. Practising this daily helps you to see things clearer, view interactions through a lens of kindness rather than judgement, and act with calm wisdom instead of reacting. Softening the start-up 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 wellbeing
- 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 judgement. 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.
The key to being heartful is to actively listen to your partner with an open heart and without judgement
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:
- “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, making you feel cared for, connected, safe, and protected.
Injecting your marriage with heartfulness – that powerful blend of mindfulness and compassion, towards your partner and yourself – doesn’t have to be complicated
Whatever your experience, commit to moving forward with mindful acceptance. Practise non-judgement 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!”