I always say the best relationships are grounded in making our partner’s happiness and well-being equal to our own. What I mean is that each partner needs to strike a balance between what’s best for the relationship and what’s best for themselves. This delicate balancing act isn’t about ignoring our own desires, stifling our emotions or even making the other person our sole priority. Rather, just as you’re mindful of your feelings and desires, you should do the same for your partner’s.
I call this “partner mindfulness,” and it involves nonjudgmental focus and awareness of your partner’s wants and needs, both in the moments you’re together and while you’re apart.
Case in point: I recently spoke with a client about working on partner mindfulness, and her initial response was, “He does him and I do me, and I honestly don’t know if either of us can go back to the days of putting each other first.” I told her, “I’m not looking for you to put him first, just tied for first some of the time.” Partner mindfulness makes it easier to achieve this desired state of being in a relationship.
Mindfulness, in its most basic form, is a skill we all exercise when addressing the needs and wants of our children, friends and co-workers, yet many of us put those tools away when it comes to our partners—especially during times of conflict and stress. When we practice partner mindfulness, though, we’re stepping outside our own thoughts and into our partner’s, allowing us to empathize and feel what it’s like to be in his or her shoes. It helps build bridges that will increase our connection and intimacy, lower stress, lessen conflict and increase our overall happiness. In short, it makes our partner feel heard, prioritized and nurtured.
Now, I know life gets busy and most of us are juggling responsibilities and feeling pulled in many directions. The last thing you need is one more “to do” on your list, but hear me out.
Here are nine quick, easy ways to practice partner mindfulness that you can integrate into your life every day:
1. Be honest with yourself about the state of your relationship. Assess your connection with your partner and ask yourself how attentive you are to each other’s wants and needs.
2. Commit to improving. Take it upon yourself to put in the extra effort and work on developing a stronger bond.
3. Narrow your focus. Clear your own thoughts and feelings and take a few moments to think exclusively about your partner, how he or she might be feeling, what his or her perspective is, and what he or she might want or need. For example, if your partner had a tough day and comes home in a bad mood, instead of thinking about how his or her irritability is affecting you, consider how your partner is feeling and how stressful it is to have a bad day that you can’t shake.
4. Make bookend connections. Make it a point to connect when you wake up in the morning and right before you go to sleep. Say goodbye when you part ways and hello when you return home. The simple act of giving your partner a hug or a kiss hello and goodbye allows you to focus on each other and your relationship for a moment.
5. Let your partner know what you appreciate about him or her. Take the time to acknowledge the good.
6. Be compassionate. If your partner is in a bad mood or is having a tough time connecting with you, approach him or her with compassion and understanding instead of disappointment or frustration.
7. Respond, DON’T REACT. Pause, think about how you want to respond and then put effort into interacting in a thoughtful, kind and loving way, even if you’re upset.
8. Focus on communication. Be aware of the messages, both verbal and nonverbal, you’re sending and make sure you’re mindful of your partner’s feelings.
9. Strike a balance. Assess your partner’s wants and needs. Try to behave in ways that take both of your feelings into account.
When you’re feeling ignored or dissatisfied, it may seem unfair or even annoying to be the person who instigates this type of change and to be the one who demonstrates more sensitivity to your partner and your relationship. Relationships require ongoing work and effort to be rewarding and fulfilling, though. And when you make the commitment to motivate and influence each other, as an added bonus, your children will witness their parents being great role models and learn skills for successful relationships.
So I encourage you to take the first step. As Gandhi says, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”
(This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Live Happy magazine.)