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Mindfulness

How Making a Valid Compliant Could Make You More Merry

Can mindfulness and sexual mindfulness make you merry?

Key points

  • Slow down enough to give yourself time to identify what might be bothering you.
  • Make clear complaints that help others know what you feel.
  • Try to declutter your schedule so that you have time to focus on meaningful moments.
  • Take in all the sights, sounds, and emotion of your partner and notice how all these stimuli impact you.

While dropping my daughter off at preschool I saw another little family hurrying to do the same thing. A younger sister asked the older one as she rushed to keep up, “Why are we running?” I was struck by her question, because it’s something I regularly ask myself, especially at this time of year: Why are you rushing? Why are you making such a complicated meal? Why are we going to yet another dance recital or basketball game? Why are the holidays so busy? Certainly, being busy and overwhelmed don’t make anyone merry.

Sometimes there are good reasons for the busyness (like I want my kids to feel my support), but sometimes I buy into the idea that busyness makes me important—and that idea is something that will not add to anyone’s happiness or merriment.

I have found it’s helpful to ask myself: Does this activity help me focus on my family or spouse? or, Are the payoffs of this activity equal to the costs?

Recently, I asked myself this question about Sunday dinners. I was busy getting food out of the oven and adding the final touches to side dishes when I had a moment to reflect. My adult kids come home, and we all visit and eat, but usually it’s me who makes the dinner. Of course, I must out-do my dinner from last week each time, which becomes exhausting. Finally, I complained. “I don’t think these dinners are worth it. I am working for hours to prepare and I’m not sure anyone really appreciates what I’m doing.” The response was immediate: I was flooded with compliments about the food and how much family members loved that we all came together to visit and share. Some suggestions also came: We could take turns making dinner, so the burden didn’t rest just on me. We could make simpler meals, like soup and bread. What was clear was that my grown kids really did care about this time together with the younger kids, and us, and they also loved my efforts to make it fun and delicious.

Here's the lesson: I slowed my thoughts enough to realize what was bugging me and I made a valid complaint. To my kids’ credit, they responded by affirming my frustration and giving some thoughtful suggestions for change. Being mindful about what is troubling us, and then making a valid complaint about it, doesn’t always turn out so well, but we need to give it a try.

The Gift of Making a Valid Complaint

Complaints are important. How can a spouse, or anyone else, adjust unless they know what is troubling us? Research validates this.[i] Couples are more likely to seek intimacy when their partner complains (uses I-statements) rather than criticizes (blames the other person for everything, says things like you never and you always). Who wouldn’t rather hear “I feel undervalued when I go to all this effort to fix dinner and no one says ‘thank you,’” rather than, “You all are so ungrateful and never appreciate my efforts.”

We need to take responsibility for how we come across to others. Relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman call this a soft startup.[ii] A soft startup is when we talk about how we feel and suggest that we visit about the issue in more depth at a later time. This approach gives our partner time to think and prepare for a productive conversation.

The Gift of Accepting Feedback

When we feel out-of-sorts and make a valid complaint we still may need to acknowledge that we are a part of the problem. If couples collaborate and talk about possible solutions, both partners will feel buy-in or a commitment to finding a workable solution.

Try this exercise the next time you feel annoyed, unappreciated, disappointed, or betrayed:

Lie on the bed and face each other. Connect with your breath through a few slow, purposeful in-breaths and out-breaths. Notice how you feel. Start with a sentence like, “When _______ happened, I felt _______.” Then invite your spouse to do the same. Once you both share your feelings, see what solutions float to the surface. It may work like a charm. But it may also take a few more rounds of expressing the hurt.

The Gift of Making Time for Each Other

Even when we don’t have complaints and things are going well in our relationship, we can neglect sex and unfortunately, that is often the first step to more serious problems. Don’t let the holidays distract you from the little moments to share intimacy — emotions, sweet feelings of connection, and yes, sex.

The other day, for example, a winter storm left 9 inches of snow. My husband and I snuggled in bed and took in the beautiful sight of the winter wonderland just outside. These moments aren’t so small in the scheme of creating a meaningful relationship. Research affirms that these small gestures are like putting money away for a rainy day.[iii] When a spouse shows they can be present and attentive with the small things, when troubles come—as they inevitably will—it’s easier to forgive and be grateful.[iv]

The benefits of being mindful during sex are no different from the benefits of being mindful in other relational moments. Take time to notice how your partner touches you. Notice when they look at you from across the room at a holiday party. Do they squeeze your hand? Slow your mind and your breath as you snuggle into their embrace or as you embrace them. Keep your eyes open, as sex therapist David Schnarch[v] would recommend. Take in all the sights, sounds, and emotions of your partner and notice how all these stimuli impact you.

The Gifts of Mindfulness and Sexual Mindfulness

Be prepared at any moment to stop. Breathe in the crisp wintry air (or if you read this in summer, breathe in the warm humid air). Notice how it smells, notice how you feel. Now, consider a few body tune-up questions:

  • Are you in touch with your body?
  • Can you take 30 seconds to tune in to how tense your muscles are, and encourage them to relax?
  • Can you notice how you feel about your others?
  • Do celebrations bring joy or added anxiety?
  • Can you eliminate some of the clutter in your schedule?
  • When is the last time you emotionally, physically, or spiritually connected with your partner?
  • Can you set aside 20 minutes tonight to really see each other? Talk about the meaning of holidays, connections, family, sexual intimacy, or whatever might be on your mind.

The answer to the question, Can mindfulness and sexual mindfulness make me merry? is no. Mindfulness doesn’t magically make us happier. But mindfulness and sexual mindfulness may give you some space to decide what will truly contribute to your merriment.

References

[i] Hirschberger, G., Florian, V., & Mikulincer, M. (2003). Strivings for romantic intimacy following partner complaint or partner criticism: A terror management perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 20(5), 675-687.

[ii] Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2018). The science of couples and family therapy: Behind the scenes at the" Love Lab". WW Norton & Company.

[iii] Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the country's foremost relationship expert. Harmony.

[1] Eyring, J. B., Leavitt, C. E., Allsop, D. B., & Clancy, T. J. (2021). Forgiveness and Gratitude: Links Between Couples’ Mindfulness and Sexual and Relational Satisfaction in New Cisgender Heterosexual Marriages. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 47(2), 147-161.

[v] Schnarch, D. M. (1991). Constructing the sexual crucible: An integration of sexual and marital therapy (Vol. 550). WW Norton & Company.

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