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Mindfulness and the Phases of a Relationship

Mindfulness and relationships

Mindfulness will undoubtedly help you get some headspace and make a difference to your life. But there’s another good reason for training the mind. Because, whether we like it or not, we share the world in which we live with other people and, unless we want to live as a solitary yogi or hermit in the mountains, we’re always going to have to interact with others. And it’s our romantic relationships that we will be focusing on today. How can we approach the search for ‘Mrs/Mr Right’ with awareness and presence? How can we apply a mindful lens to every stage of a relationship, no matter how exciting, gut wrenching or warm and fuzzy it may be? Here is a series of meditative insights from mindfulness experts Headspace into some of the most prominent phases of a relationship to help navigate the oft-seemingly murky waters in which we can find ourselves.

Contentedly Alone:

There are times in life when we want nothing more than to be alone. And of course being alone has nothing to do with being lonely. When we are content to be alone, we have a deep appreciation of the relative space and freedom in our life, not wanting things to be different from how they are right now. Some people may experience this feeling their entire life, but for most people, there is a feeling of wanting to be with another person at some stage. Training the mind means we are that much more likely to be at ease when we are alone, aware of the transitory nature of both relationships and life. It means that we embrace and treasure these moments, recognising that, very often, they too are equally transitory. The important thing in this phase is to recognise whether we genuinely feel content to be alone, or if we’re just convincing ourselves to avoid the discomfort of experiencing loneliness.

Discontentedly Alone:

We’ve all been’s when seemingly everybody else in the universe is in a happy and loving relationship apart from us. We will likely feel lonely, bored or restless, wanting the situation to be different in some having a boyfriend or girlfriend, NOW! Usually the mind is very active when we feel this way. It’s often preoccupied with doubt - Will I ever be with anyone again? With sadness - why me? With anxiety - should I change my hair? With desperation - I’ll take anyone! And probably a fair bit of indignation too - it’s not fair! Now you don’t need to be a psychologist to see that these qualities are hardly endearing to any potential future mate. By learning how to train the mind, how to step back from all that thinking, how to step out of the loop of negative emotions, we will not only feel that much more comfortable, we will arguably be that much more approachable too.

The First Meeting:

Sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach and a tight chest. And these are just the physical signs. There’s the self-applied pressure of ‘this could be the one’. There’s the anxiety of not knowing if they will like I funny/interesting/adventurous/smart enough? There’s the anxiety of not knowing if we will like them! All in all, it’s a veritable feast of neurosis which, depending on our character and habitual tendencies, can start an hour, a day, or even a week before. If we’re lucky, the symptoms will be quite mild and experienced as nothing but excitement. If we’re not so lucky, then it can feel as though we might just collapse out of sheer terror. Funnily enough though, it has much less to do with luck than we may think. Science has shown how training the mind can reduce the intensity of emotion by more than 50%, as well as increasing confidence in highly pressurized situations. You know...just in case you need any encouragement.

The Morning After:

So the date went well. Or did it? Before you know it the mind is back into overdrive. Maybe they’ll call, maybe they won’t. Maybe you should call them, maybe it’s too soon. You wish you hadn’t been so reckless on a first date, you wish you had given way to restraint and let yourself go. One hour goes by, you look at your watch. Two hours, you look again. A day goes by. No word. It’s all over, they can’t possibly like you. Now at this stage, regardless of whether the phone eventually rings or not, getting caught up in this relentless pattern of doubt, anxiety, hope and fear is exhausting. It’s also completely unnecessary, assuming you know how to step back from it all. By training the mind you can begin to witness thoughts from a place of awareness. This means there is more space around them, they no longer control you or intimidate you, and you have the peace of mind to be ok with the outcome no matter what it might be. And yeah, of course it’s normal to still hope for the best nonetheless.

The Honeymoon Phase:

Ah yes, the honeymoon phase. All is good with the world. The clouds in the sky take the form of cupid and the smallest little thing reminds you of your special one. It’s as if we have got a filter on, transforming the world into one big fuzzy, velvet, heart shaped cushion. It’s at this time that the mind is particularly susceptible to projecting into the future, imagining engagements, weddings and even procreating with the special one. When we are with them, nothing else seems to matter. There is an intimacy in these precious moments together and yet at the same time there is a sense of perhaps being lost in it, swept away by all the excitement and anticipation. There’s no question that this phase should be embraced, enjoyed and encouraged, but it’s important to have a sense of perspective and to recognise when our thoughts have become obsessive or our emotions too dependent on another individual. This is the importance of training the mind.

The Post-Honeymoon Phase:

Oh, so this is what a relationship feels like! Or maybe it’s not, you begin to think. Maybe what you were feeling before is what a real relationship should feel like and, maybe, it feels like this now simply because this isn’t the right person for you after all. But then what if they are the right person and you just never got far enough in any relationship to know what that feels like? The mind becomes like a dog with a bone. It likes what it has now, but it prefers the jacked-up excitement of the early days and misses the stimulation. Rather than being present and enjoying this unique time, instead the un-trained mind begins to project forwards, imagining a lifetime of boredom, void of any fun, lust or excitement. Needless to say, this is the mind spiraling out of control and, more often than not, it has little to do with reality. The truth is, the relationship doesn’t even really begin until the whirlwind of excitement has passed. The only thing that detracts from this phase is our tendency to compare with the past and our predilection for projecting scenarios for the future.

Contentedly Together:

Like two peas in a pod, you’ve finally found that place of comfort and contentment...and it is right here. There is still a long way to travel and much to learn about each other, but you have nonetheless found that place of acceptance. Needless to say, the pod in which you pair up with your other pea can take many forms. Whilst some couples might choose to live in a small pod, snuggled up with each other day and night, others prefer a bigger pod with a little more space to roam. Some pods are quiet whilst others are noisy, some are very colorful whilst others are decidedly beige. But as long as both individuals share this sense of contentment and are meeting each others needs with a healthy and mutual respect, then it really doesn’t matter what the pod looks like to others. Sure, there might be some bumps along the way, but having trained the mind you know how to let go of these things, how not to store up lots of baggage along the way. In short, you know how to travel lightly. Living this way, in time, you begin to experience a deep sense of unity with your other pea, and a togetherness you could of once only imagined.

Want more tips on how to make meditation a part of your day? Headspace is meditation made simple, accessible and relevant to your everyday life. Sign up for free to our Take10 programme to get the basics just right with guided audio programmes and support and get your Headspace, anytime, anywhere on the Headspace app. And if you find that you're feeling the benefits of some Headspace then why not take advantage of our fantastic Psychology Today reader offer