Being present and attentive could hold the key to a longer, happier and more intimate bond
Do you find yourself arguing over who forgot to turn on the dishwasher? Does his iPad scrolling during dinnertime drive you bonkers? As the saying goes, falling in love is easy but staying in love is hard – and these words couldn’t be more relevant than they are for today’s couples. In fact, data shows that more people claim to be unhappy in their marriage than ever before – one study goes so far as to report that six out of 10 people are discontented with their relationship.
The key contributing factors? A lack of affection, busy lifestyles, communication troubles and even the lure of technology seem to be driving a wedge between wedded folk. Fortunately, there is a silver lining – reports indicate that plenty of couples stick it out through tricky times, and the Marriage Foundation found that those who do so are likely to be far happier than most 10 years later. But why wait for years to experience greater intimacy and a deeper connection with your beloved? With self-care at the fore of wellness trends, an increasing amount of research is suggesting that being mindful could improve the health of our intimate relationships. “Mindfulness helps overcome the biggest hurdles – misunderstandings and failed expectations,” explains Mihaela Berciu, founder of mindfulness subscription service, sparkyourbloom.com. “Success of a relationship is not about being identical, but about becoming aware and knowledgeable of each other.”
Indeed, science shows that taking a bit of time out to focus on self-care could help couples to have greater empathy, better control over their emotions and fewer arguments.
How does it work? According to data, mindfulness practice improves the connection between the brain’s emotional regulation areas – the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. This dampens our ‘fight or flight’ response, meaning we’re in a better position to connect emotionally with others. “It calms down the alarm system in your brain that tends to trigger the hyper-vigilance and aggression functions that are there to save our lives,” adds Will Williams, author of The Effortless Mind (£9.99, amazon.co.uk). “Additionally, it activates the part of the brain that is involved in feelings of love, compassion, empathy and trust, enabling us to feel more human in our interactions.” Mindfulness also creates a greater awareness of your partner’s feelings. “The number one issue most people in relationships have is with expectations – unexpressed or misplaced,” continues Mihaela. “When we enter a relationship, we assume our other half thinks and feels like us, but no two people think and feel identically – it’s impossible. A mindful relationship is honouring the differences by taking time to understand them.” Fortunately, there are things you can do to boost your bond today. Follow these mindful tips to build a deeper connection.
Intimacy describes the ability to be in touch with inner experiences, and that includes your own thoughts and emotions. By learning to love yourself, you will be in a better place to love someone else. “The better we know ourselves, the less we expect the other to fulfil our greatest needs,” adds Mihaela. “Practising mindfulness helps us to become aware of these needs and adjust them to whom we are today. By making these adjustments, we don’t need to measure our worthiness by how loved we are by our partner.”
“Being aware and understanding of one another will help you to better recognise how the other values love and being loved – it’s like learning the other’s language,” says Mihaela. In times of disagreement, take the initiative to ask questions that can help you to see your beloved’s point of view. Try ones such as: “What do you mean by that?” “How do you understand that word?” “How do you feel happiness?” – questions like these will help you to accept and know one another on a deeper level. “The beauty of these questions is that they also help us to get to know ourselves better,” adds Mihaela. “By hearing how others see and feel things, we start to question our own ways and become more open to reconsidering our beliefs.”
It’s not unusual to have lacklustre sex – a 2018 survey by Public Health England found that 42 percent of women are dissatisfied. Researchers claim that modern life is affecting our sex drives – we worry about jobs, money, children – but being mindful during sex can help you to ‘be in the moment’. Indeed, really tuning into the body is at the core of The Karma Sutra, as well as many Buddhist and Taoist sexual manuals. Try to focus on the sensations you’re feeling and hone in on what you’re experiencing. Many mindfulness experts recommend practising this skill during everyday tasks, such as, when making a cup of tea (how does it taste, smell, feel?) or having a shower (what does the water sound and feel like?).
Tricky times in relationships often come down to feeling misunderstood, neglected or mistreated, as well as how well we know our needs and wants. It’s important to be aware of this fact and consider whether you’re expressing yourself effectively. “It’s truly difficult for another person to think, feel and act as you would,” explains Mihaela. “Expecting them to do so, especially without telling them, is a certain way to cause hurt.” Take the time to learn about yourself, then communicate your desires openly and gently.”
Meditation can really help to strengthen your bond. “It has a powerful impact on balancing out the activation of the neo-cortical functions of the brain that facilitate greater connection with other humans,” explains Will. “Meditation also helps to increase the flow of sex hormones in those who may be producing less due to stress, meaning there is more libido for the all-important moments of intimacy.” If you’re feeling tired after a long day, do a quick meditation on your way home. Download the Beeja app and try one of the exercises on opening the heart, feeling more love, or managing anger – you’ll be in a better place to greet your loved one when you walk through the door.