Two people face each other in a difficult situation. One pauses before reacting automatically.

How mindfulness helps with relationships

Are you facing a difficult conversation with a family member, friend or work colleague? Or has it already happened and left you with the feeling that things could have gone better? Do you sometimes find yourself automatically getting upset and angry because of something someone has said to you?

How practising mindfulness helps

Using a small mindful pause to examine your internal reactions before you speak or act in a difficult situation can make relationships run much more smoothly.

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, writing in the Huffington Post, explains that mindfulness gives you a way to notice what’s going on in your mind so you can:

…stay connected to your feelings without falling victim to inappropriate, intense reactions based on unresolved issues from your past.”

Lisa invites her readers to use their imagination to picture a difficult situation—and the way in which using a mindful pause could lead to a better outcome:

Imagine, for example, being triggered by your partner. Picture yourself in that heated moment when everything just feels overwhelmingly wrong: anger is bubbling over inside you, combined with intense distress.

Now imagine being able to feel your emotions without reacting in the moment. Imagine observing the emotions and thoughts that are arising without getting caught up in them—being able to keep your emotional balance. This allows you to think about how you would like to respond in the situation versus how you would instinctively react.”

Give yourself the space to react differently

Simply counting to 10 before you respond in a tricky situation often isn’t enough! Instead, try this practise to give yourself the space to make better decisions in difficult situations:

  • Bring your awareness to your breathing for a few in-breaths and out-breaths.
  • Become aware of your feelings and ask yourself why you are finding the situation difficult. As best you can, try not to be critical of yourself here; have compassion for how you are feeling without judging yourself (or the other person).
  • Finally, instead of reacting instinctively (possibly in a way that might make the situation more difficult) think about how you’d like to respond. Now you can use your mindful space to choose the best way forward for you, whatever that may be.

Practising this mindful pause will help you drop automatic patterns of behaviour that haven’t worked for you in the past so you can try something new—something that could work much better!

What’s happening in the other person’s mind?

You can also use a mindful moment to ask yourself what’s really happening in someone else’s mind. When you’re on the defensive with someone, you tend to overreact to every word they say. You may often fail to really hear what’s going on for them. In a difficult situation, pause in your mindful moment and ask yourself:

  • What is the other person experiencing?
  • What has triggered their upset?
  • What are they really saying to us or asking of us?

It’s not about burying your emotions

Remember that mindfulness isn’t about denying or burying our emotions. As Lisa Firestone says:

It’s simply about cultivating a different relationship to our feelings and experiences, in which we are in the driver’s seat. We can see our feelings and thoughts like a passing train roaring through the station, but we alone choose if we want to get on board.”

Top tip: If you find yourself getting on board the train and being swept along, don’t despair—remember you can still get off at the next station!

More top tips to help you practice

This pebble says "be a better listener"
This pebble says "give yourself the gift of self-compassion"

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