• Clashing with a partner at times is inevitable, but mindful steps can help you maintain gratitude and compassion in your relationship 

  • Julie Potiker offers four mindfulness practices that you and your partner can engage with to support your relationship

  • We have couples therapists and counsellors ready to support you – find yours here

When we get married (or enter a committed romantic partnership), we hope for peace and love to rule the day, day after day and year after year. Because life presents difficulties, our peace can be shattered and our love may be in danger of dissolving. 

Just as mindfulness helps us to sit with the challenges of daily life and appreciate what is present, it can help us to appreciate our partners and sit with the hard moments that inevitably arise. Though we can’t avoid the problems, when we practice mindfulness in our relationship, we can handle difficult moments with compassion and love, rather than resentment and anger.

At first, practising mindfulness in a marriage may feel uncomfortable or unnatural. Eventually, as you plug your practice into your daily routine, it may feel easy and wonderful! Just remember, there is nothing wrong with you if you have challenges in your relationship. When two people come together, there will always be places and moments in which they seem to clash. The objective is not to avoid problems altogether, but to create a practice that allows you to sit with these hard times and manage the difficulties together in compassionate connection, so that you can repair the rupture and move forward together with kindness and love.

Mindfulness practices enable you to pause and notice what thoughts, feelings, and emotions are arising in you, and that act of noticing allows enough space so that you are less identified with the emotion. “Anger is arising” feels much different than “I am angry!” That space between the stimulus and your response is golden — you can choose to respond skilfully instead of reacting instantly. That instant reaction comes from a deeper, more primitive part of your brain, the amygdala. When you pause, you allow your prefrontal cortex to come online and assist you in making a wise choice.

Four tips for a mindful marriage: 

1. Practice loving-kindness

Loving-kindness, or metta meditation, is the practice of opening your heart and sending loving feelings to yourself and others by using a silent mantra. There are many methods of loving-kindness meditation, but one you might use is to start by sending loving-kindness to yourself, saying to yourself, “May I be safe, may I be healthy, may I live with ease, may I be loved and appreciated.” 

Then you will move on to sending loving-kindness to someone else. To nurture your marriage, send loving-kindness next to your spouse. “May [name] be safe, may [name] be healthy, may [name] live with ease, may [name] be loved and appreciated.” As you are bringing more love and compassion to your marriage, there’s no need to stop there. You can open the circle of compassion to send loving-kindness to family and friends, neighbourhoods, countries, continents, the planet earth, and all its inhabitants.

2. Write down three things you are grateful for about your partner

We all have qualities that other people might not like. In a marriage, it's easy to point out the things that irritate us about our spouse to them, or remind them about things they haven’t done around the house. This will only hurt the person and your relationship. Even though you might feel compelled to say something about what you see as the other person’s faults, this is counterproductive. 

Instead, simply witness your own negative thought and turn the energy of your relationship around by focusing on what you appreciate about your partner, instead of what you perceive as their flaws. Take a few minutes to turn your mindful attention to all that is amazing about them. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down their wonderful qualities. Don’t be surprised if your mind fills with more things that you appreciate about them as you write. You can do this any time you are feeling irritated. You may even sometimes find it was not your spouse, but your own negative feelings disrupting your peace. 

Keep the journal going by answering these questions each night: 1. What did I enjoy today? 2. What am I grateful for today? Your increased wellbeing will be of benefit in all your interpersonal relationships.

3. Listen to a guided meditation together

Being peaceful together and collecting your attention can be a beautiful way to spend time with a partner. Look for a guided meditation you will both enjoy. There are so many to choose from! Select a breathing meditation for quiet, an abundance meditation to nurture gratitude, or a mantra meditation for connection. By practising mindfulness in a space together, you will experience a newfound peace. 

After you finish your practice, you can speak quietly with each other about what you discovered during your practice. Put meditating together on your daily or weekly calendar and make it a shared ritual. Practise in the morning to ease into the day, or enjoy this peaceful time as a way of relaxing after a challenging day.

4. Do things together that bring each of you joy

Find a few minutes to sit down with your spouse and list simple things you do together that bring you joy. It may take some time in mindful contemplation to think of those things, but stay with the practice until you have come up with your list. Perhaps it will include a walk in the park, picking apples at a farm, doing yoga, or cooking a meal together. Once you have your list, choose one to do together each day. Or you can pick a few, and spend a day off enjoying these joyful moments as a couple. 

When you are enjoying an activity together, savour the feelings of happiness for a few breaths so that you push the positive mental state in your brain into a lasting neural trait. What fires together, wires together, or put another way, Dr. Dan Siegel says, “Where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows.” That connection grows in us, and between us in relation to each other. How lovely to be in an upward spiral of good feelings in your marriage, where you are both building happy neural pathways in your brains, and where your neurons are mirroring each other’s positive vibe.

A mindfulness practice within a marriage or partnership expands our sense of love and appreciation for each other. We won’t be able to avoid challenges in our romantic relationships by being mindful, but we can acknowledge difficulties, repair ruptures, and then shift our focus on the positive. It takes a regular practice to continue to address challenges mindfully. By working on a more compassionate and kinder relationship with your partner in this way, you will experience your heart opening up with even more love, and see more things about them to appreciate and cherish.

Julie Potiker is a mindfulness coach and the author of Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Further reading

The basics of mindfulness: why does it work?

Relationship therapy saved our marriage

Is staying in love an unrealistic relationship goal?

7 steps to resolve anger in relationships

5 myths and misconceptions about couples counselling