Practicing mindfulness is a way to become more present in every area of our lives, including our romantic and sexual relationships.
According to Buddhist teachings, the Four Foundations of mindfulness are:
Mindfulness of body
Mindfulness of feelings
Mindfulness of thought/consciousness
Mindfulness of how your mind works
Mindfulness of Body
In relationships, mindfulness of our bodies can help us to become more aware of our base physical reactions (i.e. tension, relaxation, tingling, temperature). Any change in our physical condition in relation to an interaction or thought of our partner can yield important information which can be used to improve our relationship.
Situations when our bodies may react might be during conversations (in person or not) or arguments/debates, sexual activities, and household chores. Anytime we are together or thinking of one another, there is the potential for base bodily reaction.
It’s important to note here, mindfulness isn’t about changing or judging our body’s reactions…it’s about noticing them. What we notice can help us to make adjustments to how we engage with each other and ourselves.
Mindfulness of Feelings
Feelings/emotions are often attached to our baser physical reactions, and they can be positive, negative, or neutral. Tightening may relate to fear, anxiety, or anger. Loosening may relate to happiness, contentment, or love. A change in temperature may signal desire or frustration.
Our differing feelings about an experience or event can lead to conflict, while similar feelings can lead to a sense of connection. Either way, taking the time to understand our feelings before we react can help us to both avoid conflict and uncover experiences we want to repeat. For example, if we were to try something new in the bedroom, and my body tightened and my emotions edged toward fear, it would be in my (our) best interest for me to at least be aware of it and take a moment to consider why. Am I afraid because it is new? Do I trust my partner? Am I willing to try before I say no? Or am I afraid for good reason? (In which case, I should halt the activity and discuss it before it goes any further.)
Mindfulness of Thought
Our minds are powerful things, and some of us let them run amok, taking over everything we do (like me). Over-thinking is just as bad as under-thinking, but having a healthy awareness of our thoughts is important and necessary if we are to understand our bodies’ reactions and our emotional responses to external events.
In any given situation, there is a progression from bodily reaction to emotion to thoughts about how our body is reaction and the emotions we are feeling. Trying to figure out why we feel a certain way or why we are reacting a certain way is a good thing. Some people are naturally introspective and do this automatically, while others need to put more effort into it. Being aware of the thoughts that happen after physical and emotional responses can help us to avoid over-reacting and to pinpoint events and experiences that are positive or negative for us. This can help us to learn which events to avoid and which to seek out more often.
Mindfulness of How Your Mind Works
As mentioned above, some of us over-think or over-react on the regular. Knowing that we are hypersensitive (or the opposite) can help us to make better sense of our initial physical, emotional, and mental responses. If we have PTSD, particular triggers, a mental illness that may color our responses, or tend to simply react in particular ways to particular stimuli, simply being aware of this can be a tool. When we see our thought-patterns bending in a certain direction, catching ourselves is easier when we know what to expect. I, for example, tend to over-react. I don’t always catch myself, but when I do (when I’m mindful), I focus on breathing, avoid eye contact for a moment, and try not to say anything until I can calm myself down. These simply measures can keep me from saying things I don’t mean and triggering an argument.
Mindfulness is a process…a strategy…a tool…for better self-control and personal awareness. It’s as simple as stopping and going inside for a quick inspection of our thoughts (what’s going on here? what am I feeling? why am I feeling this?). Being more mindful demands that we slow down and become a bit more self-aware in order to better connect with ourselves and others.