How Mindful Fighting Can Change Your Relationship

Pausing to let go of the stories we tell ourselves about our partner’s actions and really listening to their feelings and needs can open up a brand new world of discovery about our loved ones.

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I was calling my husband to let him know I’d be home early. I was excited to see him, but my excitement came to a screeching halt when he answered the phone with his usual unenthusiastic “hey.”

Now, it’s probably helpful at this point in the story to give you a little background. My husband dislikes talking on the phone so much that in 1999 when he proposed to me, a time when email was just starting to be a thing, he emailed his parents to tell them we were engaged. His parents still tease him about this, but joking aside, the fact that he did not call them doesn’t mean that he wasn’t eager to share the news, but it does mean that he does not like to talk on the phone.

I know my husband does not like to talk on the phone. But when my excited self met his seemingly unenthusiastic self that night on the phone, I had visions of storm clouds of emotional outbursts on the horizon. You know that moment when you notice yourself about to fly off the handle and think “uh oh, here we go”? Yeah, that was me.

I envisioned rattling off accusations that he wasn’t excited about my coming home and for good measure, throwing in some vague threats that if he didn’t want to see me, well then, I’d just go out to dinner with a friend instead of coming home. He of course would respond in turn with some unrelated angry rant and we would end the phone call fuming.

If you are in any sort of relationship with a human, chances are you’ve had similar disastrous fights spring up out of nowhere. Somehow in the midst of reaching for the person you love, your communications take a hard left turn, veers off course and dumps you both in a ditch… leaving you dazed and confused.

“Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” – Jack Kornfield

What if we could take a deep breath and share our own feelings about their behavior in a heart-centered way? And then listen to their feelings without the need to prove that we are right and they are wrong?

What would it look like if we could do what Jack suggests? Instead of getting triggered by our partner’s behaviors and making up stories about why they are doing what they are doing, what if we could take a deep breath and share our own feelings about their behavior in a heart-centered way? And then listen to their feelings without the need to prove that we are right and they are wrong?

My experience as a sex and relationship coach has taught me that all the wonderful things that meditation offers us as individuals… presence, creativity, compassion, happiness… can also bring the same qualities to our relationships. I’m not perfect, and I struggle with this like everyone else, but let’s revisit my phone conversation with a few of the tools that mediation brings us and see how the call actually went.

1. Breathe. Breath is an essential component of meditation. When I was growing up, I imagined how cool it would be to have a remote control that I could use to pause the world when things were moving too fast. Breath offers exactly that. It’s a pause button. When my husband says or does something that sparks an unexpectedly strong emotion in me, I can take a breath and notice what sensations are arising for me. With breath as the focus of my attention, I can observe the sensations instead of reacting to them.
2. Center. Breath allows us to become centered and present in our body. As this little girl so eloquently describes “My heart is something. And everyone else’s heart is something too.” When we are centered and present, we can listen to our own feelings and expand our capacity for considering other’s feelings. I took a deep breath and centered myself when my husband answered the phone, and found that I felt sad and rejected.
3. Connect. When we are centered, we can connect to others in a more authentic and heartfelt way. Our communications become less judgmental and more curious. In this less reactive state, I was able to say to my husband “Wow, I was so excited to let you know I was coming home early and your tone of voice leads me to believe you aren’t excited which makes me feel rejected. Am I reading that wrong?”

It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t take years of a formal meditation practice to apply these techniques in your relationship. It just takes a breath, a pause button, and a willingness to fight the urge to react in a way that will disconnect you from your partner, when what you really want to do is connect. It won’t always work, but even if it works some of the time, wouldn’t it be worth it?

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