Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
My partner and I have been through a lot over the past couple years. Name an obstacle and we’ve likely encountered it. We’ve moved across the country together, coped with the loss of several loved ones, dealt with unemployment and financial issues—not to mention bouts of jealousy, frustration, and depression. While we’ve overcome these hurdles and emerged mostly unscathed, our relationship remains a work-in-progress.
We each have our own communication styles and coping mechanisms for the rough patches. I’ve found that meditation helps me to reflect on our actions, process events, and approach whatever situation with a level head and (mostly) open mind. My partner, Zach, meditates occasionally, but we both practice privately. Meditation happens on my own time, of my own volition, and focuses on my own needs, and vice versa for him.
But for the past week, we tried something new: meditating together. To make our middle school teachers proud, we even followed the scientific method for our experiment—although love is not a perfect science. Our starting observation was that meditation has benefitted both of us in a number of ways and already had a positive impact on our relationship. However, it seemed self-serving; it fell short of completely resolving some issues in isolation. We then sought to answer this simple question: could meditating together improve our partnership?
We scheduled thirty minutes every day, with times fluctuating to accommodate our work schedules. We set intentions for each session and selected an exercise from a correlating Headspace pack that matched our focus for that day. Zach and I recorded notes detailing how we felt at the end of each exercise, along with an overall reflection on the week. I’ll spare you the Excel file, but have included our abbreviated mindfulness diary below.
We kicked off our experiment by completing a session from the Happiness pack. Kind of a rough start, I’ll be honest. It was awkward to share something that is normally so personal even though we share just about everything else. This exercise definitely felt less productive than others that I’ve done solo. There was a lot of giggling, which sort of achieves the intention for this session? That’s a stretch though, I’ll admit. We had a little trouble turning the outside world off for this time as well.
Zach and I got into an argument via text earlier in the afternoon about an upcoming trip to New York City. I used to live there, and he expressed concern about having to spend time with my ex-boyfriend, who remains a close friend. While I understood where he was coming from, I got frustrated with some of his comments and the whole thing spiraled from there. When the time for our second session rolled around, there was much less giggling than the previous day. It was also much more productive. Tonight we completed a session from the Self-esteem pack under the Health series. After completing the Headspace exercise, we found that our shared mindfulness facilitated a more empathetic conversation afterward than the SMS blowout we’d had a few hours earlier. We shared our perspectives, fully listened to each other, and apologized for our typed personal attacks. This was probably one of the best and easiest argument resolutions in our relationship history.
Both of us have been dealing with a lot of stress recently, some from our careers, and also from shared sources like finances. It’s hard to leave these issues at the door or address them without allowing them to take their toll on our time together. Tonight’s exercise on that very topic from the Stress pack felt very calming. I had been irritated all day at work, struggling to manage a never-ending project with little support. Zach got a parking ticket and was also having car trouble that ended up being very expensive to fix. Thirty minutes of meditation allowed us to put these events into perspective. While I won’t say that we’re compartmentalizing our issues, I will say we accomplished looking at them in scale, rather than blowing them out of proportion. Our stressors aren’t going away, but we feel more equipped to cope with them reasonably.
My parents gave us a television as a housewarming gift when we first moved into our new place. Neither of us had lived in a place with a TV for years, so predictably, we got hooked. On almost any free evening, our eyes were glued to the screen. (Did you know that “Gilmore Girls” has seven seasons featuring at least twenty episodes each? We do.) This addictive habit took its toll on us; we talked to each other less, opting to listen in on fictional characters’ conversations instead. Tonight we completed a session from the Relationships pack and set the intention of deliberately unplugging and trying to build a new habit of boosting engagement. Time normally spent on “Weeds” was reallocated to mindfulness, which felt much better.
While we’re good at quick apologies, there are some emotional wounds that haven’t fully healed over the course of our relationship. Tonight’s session followed an exercise from the Acceptance pack under the Relationships series, which we used because we haven’t fully been owning up to some things in our shared past. It was the most intense period yet and felt very painful at times. This session involved resurfacing some extremely painful memories (loss of a close friend and cheating, to name a couple) and working through what went wrong, where apologies fell short, and a long discussion on how to actually heal rather than simply move on. I’ve certainly cried during meditation before, but the emotions that surfaced during a shared session felt more profound.
Zach lost a close friend a few months ago and is still working through the grieving process. My grandpa passed away very recently; although he had been struggling in his fight against cancer for a while, we all thought he had more time. It came as a shock to me and put a lot of things into perspective regarding family and mortality. Tonight’s session felt very healing. Although we followed an exercise from the same Acceptance pack as we had used the day before, the intention behind it cultivated a very different experience and outcome. This mindfulness helped us move one step closer to closure and helped us think with love about the people we lost.
Our last day had a two-pronged focus on self-love and respect, and the love and respect we showed toward each other. We followed an exercise on Appreciation from the Relationships series to mirror this intention. Today’s final session very much felt like the culmination of everything we had considered over the course of this experiment. We feel more comfortable sharing this space now and have come to value the deeper connection it has cultivated for us.
While these shared sessions have brought a new level of connection into our partnership, I also believe it’s important to maintain my own individual meditation practice. Zach and I share many things, but not everything—my own mindfulness still yields great value in my day-to-day well-being. We plan to continue meditating as a couple, although we agreed to ditch the Excel spreadsheets. One last note: our sex life has never been better.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.