By Ben Cohen, Ph.D. //
Being “Mindful” in our intimate relationships is no longer an option—it is a necessity.
Couples today expect a lot from their marriage/committed relationship. We want our partner to be our lover, best friend, our go-to person when things are tough, our loyal playmate, and to share in the activities that most interest us. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a challenging thing.
In the “Romantic Love Stage,” we think it will be easy. We believe we have met “The One.” You know… the one who will meet all of your needs, and of course they will do so forever after! The truth is, you and your partner are two different people, and you won’t always see things the same way, or want the same things. Whether it is how you clean the house, how often you have sex, how you manage your time or your money, or how you share your feelings—differences will arise. So eventually, even in the best of relationships, “Romantic Love” turns into the “Power Struggle,” and the battle ensues over whose way is the “right” way.
Sadly, most of us have not had good role models to teach us how to manage conflict or disagreement in a healthy and positive way. Far too often we find ourselves caught in cycles of anger, criticism, and blame, needlessly hurting the one we love most. My experience is that most couples actually have just a few core issues, but they repeat the same patterns over and over. And it is usually less about some “thing,” and more about how they communicate with each other. Fortunately, there is a better way.
Western psychology has brought us a variety of methods for improving communication, and deepening our relationships. The method that I use most is called “Imago”—developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. And there are others, including Nonviolent Communication, EFT, PACT, and so on. What all of these approaches share is the understanding that we need to learn to communicate with our partner with empathy and understanding. We need to be able to see and appreciate their point of view, have compassion for them, and truly accept them for who they are.
Like many great truths, it really is this simple: We need to speak lovingly, and treat each other well. And of course, this is not always easy. In his book, Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh (a.k.a. “Thay”) brings together the ancient Buddhist teachings and modern methods similar to what, in Imago, we call the “Dialogue Process.” Thay uses the term “Deep Listening and Loving Speech” to describe such a process.
In short, to have the relationships that we all desire, we must practice Mindfulness in our everyday interactions with our beloved, and take actions that follow our highest intentions. We need to be truly loving, compassionate, accepting, and to sow the seeds of joy and peace in ourselves and in our partner. If you do this, you can have the relationship of your dreams, and experience deep and lasting joy. But it requires the practice of Mindfulness, and living this practice intentionally and consistently over time with your partner.
About the Author
Ben Cohen, Ph.D., is a Licensed Psychologist, and certified Imago Relationship Therapist and Workshop Presenter. He maintains a private practice in Boulder, Colorado, and is an international presenter and trainer of the Imago approach. Each year, he presents the “Relationship As A Spiritual Path: Getting the Love You Want” couples workshop at Shambhala Mountain Center, integrating Imago and teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh. For more information about Ben and his practice, go to: https://relationshipgrowthcenter.com/