By Carly McDade,MS, Family Therapist
Ahh, to be in love. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You and your partner adventuring in the world together. Engaging in stimulating conversation, taking each other out to dinner, and meeting one another’s friends & family. Getting to know the other’s (many) quirks, feeling passionate, and perhaps making strides towards cohabitation or marriage. Yes, to live within a romantic relationship can be pretty dreamy…
And then again – we live in a digital-age world. In a world where cell phones are constantly buzzing, keyboards are quizzically typing, and the television hums in the background. Just how are we supposed to feel connected to our partners? How often do you find yourself on “date night” at your favorite restaurant, only instead of good grub, you’re consuming the daily feed off Facebook and Instagram, as each of you glares down into the abyss of your iPhone? Instead of staring longingly into their eyes, you’re checking out the angle of your selfie, making sure you post a witty hashtag. (Sidebar: is “Selfie” capitalized?)
Don’t forget, this is just the dating phase. What about when you have made the choice to move in, or get married, or have kids? Doesn’t it just get that much more complicated? We’ve become so concerned about being in-the-know with our “social” life, that we end up risking the chance of missing moments that are truly worthy of our attention.
Although, don’t fret. I did say that it’s a “digital-age world,” remember? Technology moves fiercely and fast, but not all the same pressure is on us romantically. Shifts toward being more mindful, especially with regards to mating/dating/marriage, are not expected to happen overnight. As defined by one of the leading experts around it, “mindfulness” is simply, “paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). If we are with our boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse at any point in time, learning to recognize as many present-moments that we can without much discernment, is perhaps just the beginning.
And if you get stuck, here are a few more ideas:
- Put the Electronics Away (sometimes)
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I also get that it’s difficult to do considering the demands we have at our fingertips (work, school, calendars, email, and so on). Although, I’m sure you can imagine the importance of ‘disconnecting to connect’ when it comes to face-to-face interactions. Think eye contact, folks. And still I could argue for our smartphones on occasion, especially having been in receipt of those surprising, adoring midday texts or emails that are a simple check-in or “I love you” out of the blue. Maybe the start is by putting the phones on “curfew” during weeknights, and you make room for interpersonal exchanges like conversation or sneaking up to bed early.
- Make Time for Quality Time
In conjunction with tip #1, spending designated, intentional time is an ideal prescription we could all receive for our relationships. It might start out with you and your boo planning a monthly brunch date. From there it moves up to getting out to the movies twice a month, or you visit a café during week to share a couple of coffees and split a special treat. (You don’t have to be like me and always make it about food 😊.) My husband has been known to take out a deck of cards or board game that we have in the house and plan a “game night” for just the two of us. Are you both active? Get outside and take a hike together in the Wissahickon. Plan a trip to Kelly Drive for a run or bike ride. Whatever the two of you find enjoyable to do together, make a choice and then a commitment for it within your mutual schedule.
- Random Acts of Kindness
For those of you with a little gift-giving in your heart, this could be for you. At first, that may sound rather mindless, because anyone can buy a dozen roses or box of chocolates. But a random act of kindness in our relationship can be intentional, too. It’s quite a pleasant surprise to get into your car and discover that your spouse has filled it up with gas. Or when you’re looking at the family calendar and see that she has an important work presentation on Monday, perhaps you choose to bring her her favorite cup of tea on Sunday morning in bed to unwind. These small, thoughtful acts sound so simple, but that itself is what is so mindful about them.
- Mindful Body Scanning
This one may sound focused for sex and intimacy (and it can be!), but let’s also explore the possibility of an even deeper connection: parasympathetic nervous system regulation (ohhhh yeah). The main point of the practice being that as we tap into the “rest & digest” component of our autonomic nervous system – which can bring on restoration after feeling frightened, agitated, or vigilant – we also tap into the areas of our mind/body connection that invite safety, calm, and trust. If, by cultivating tools of meditation or breath as an individual, we begin to notice ways in which our lives have become less worry-inducing, consider how this kind of practice can shape your relationship. Especially as it pertains to arguing/fighting and emotional reactivity. If this body scan sounds interesting, see Gottman-trained psychotherapist Toni Parker’s post for a wonderfully detailed instruction. https://www.gottman.com/blog/building-your-marriage-on-the-four-foundations-of-mindfulness/
- Asking for What You Need from Them
Now this may also seem like an obvious one for some of you. “What do you mean? I ask him/her all the time and they just aren’t listening to me!” Is it true? Do you make conscious, clear statements about what you need? Or are there possible tones coming out of your fatigue or stress? Or maybe passive-aggressiveness? And don’t find this the time to judge your prior actions. We can use a mindful moment right now, to focus on how to be kind, direct, and vulnerable all at the same time with our partners. Make eye contact with them whenever possible when requesting something – be it your cup of water from across the room, or inquiring about a little romance around bedtime. Offer the soft touch of your hand onto their arm and bid a connection towards their energy level if you’re seeking comfort. While mind-reading seems like it would be fabulous at times, do not disregard the immense power we have as humans to bond by way of nonverbal cues, as much as we can vocally.
*If you’re resonating with some of these, and are interested in learning more … One of my favorite go-to-texts for exploring some of these areas around our own needs and those of our partner’s, is Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. The five dimensions vary among physical and emotional connections and help identify what is of greatest value for each person in the relationship. Head to their website today to take the free online quiz to find out what your love language is! http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
Carly McDade, MS is an individual, couples, and family therapist. She is passionate about supporting her clients in having healthy and fulfilling relationships with themselves and others. She takes a gentle and mindful approach to therapy encouraging clients to practice self care. To read more about Carly click here. You can also schedule with her online for individual therapy here or for couples therapy here.