We may think of meditation as a way to gain inner peace and tranquility. But have you considered how a meditation practice can create a climate that deepens intimacy and improves communication?
John Gottman’s research into what makes marriages succeed reveals that when partnerships are marred by a high degree of criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness, they often end up in divorce. How can we reduce these intimacy-busting behaviors and create a climate that supports the love we want?
Uncovering Deeper Feelings
Our tendency to criticize, attack, or diagnose others (“you’re self-centered, arrogant, and only think about yourself”) can be a way to vent anger and signal our discontent. In Attachment Theory language, this may be an attachment protest—a way to act-out the pain we feel from not having the connection we want.
A vital question is this: what happens internally when we spew criticism, rage, or blame—or when we appear to be retreating from intimacy? Perhaps we’re wanting closeness and feel powerless to get the connection we desire. An impotent rage may build when we feel neglected, but such anger and blame may further push away our partner or friend, leaving us feeling even more frustrated.
Or, our sense of powerlessness may lead to an angry or quiet withrawal. We my want relief from the pain of being shamed or criticized. We may stonewall because we don’t want the situation to get worse. Wanting space may seem like an avoidance of intimacy. But it may be the only way we know to safeguard the relationship from further trauma.
Whether we attack or withdraw, one thing seems certain: we’re hurting inside. But it isn’t easy for us humans to access these more vulnerable feelings and courageously express them and be open to what happens.
Meditation or mindfulness practice is a way to slow down and notice what we’re actually feeling inside. It’s not realistic to expect ourselves to know what we’re feeling without first finding some distance from our feelings. Such distance, which meditation helps create, can give us a sense of having a feeling without being the feeling. Finding the right kind of distance from a feeling—not too close or too far—can enable us to find some equanimity in relation to difficult or scary emotions.
Meditation helps us slow down our physiology enough to access what we’re really feeling inside. As we get our arms around our more deeply felt experience— as we learn to hold our emotions in a gentle, caring way—they have a chance to settle. We’re then better positioned to share what we’re really experiencing without the toxic effects created by rage, blame, or withdrawal.
Relaxing Our Desire for Certainty
Another reason we cling to our judgments and criticisms is that we may have difficultly embracing uncertainty and ambiguity, Not having the intimacy, trust, and safety we want, we may feel out-of-control.
We may seek certainty by trying to diagnose our partner or friend, as if that will suddenly help them see the light and change their behavior. We may tell them forcefully how narcissistic they are—or insist that they’re more interested in their work than in us. But these are only ideas we hold in our mind. They may or not be true. Even if true, they do nothing to create the connection we want. In fact, they are likely to distance people further.
No one likes being judged, shamed, and diagnosed. We’re more likely to draw our partner toward us if we ask questions rather than insist that we’re right about how awful or damaged they are. By taking time with ourselves through meditation, we might realize how sad we are or how lonely we feel. We might then come to our partner with less blame and more compassion, perhaps saying something like, “I realize I’ve been feeling lonely for you. I miss having time with you.”
Or we might ask questions from a more tender, vulnerable place rather than cling to misguided thoughts about what is happening inside them: “I’m wondering why we don’t spend more time together. I’m a little afraid to ask, but is there some way I’ve alienated you? I’m wondering if you still like me and enjoy my company.”
Meditation is a practice that helps us rest more comfortably within ourselves. As we find more peace inside, we can gain clearer access to how life is affecting us—and how our relationships are affecting us.
We may feel less out-of-control as we find a way to connect with ourselves, which is the only thing we have any real control over. As we replace our desire to control others with courageously revealing what is happening inside ourselves—with the help of meditation or other practices that connect us with ourselves—we create a climate that helps bring people toward us. We’re then more likely to enjoy the rich and fulfillment connection we long for.
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