One of our favourite experts, Helen Williams, has launched a new project – MindfulME – to bring mindfulness, meditation and clarity to the UAE, along with her regular dose of counselling wisdom and emotional/mental insights. We caught up with her to ask about relationships and how we can be better at them...
It may be an ancient concept, but for most people, the word ‘mindfulness’ popped up on their radar about five years ago.
As such, many of us think we know what it means – eating slowly and concentrating on your food; colouring books that force you to slow down and focus on the task in front of you; being present in the moment. But according to Helen Williams, co-founder of Mindful ME, it’s way deeper than that and can be a great tool to help navigate ourselves safely through one of life’s most difficult minefields – our relationships.
“Mindfulness is about being conscious of your own mind and your own thoughts. People think they can just do it on their own, but it’s not as easy as it sounds and most people need to learn how to do it… If it came to us naturally, I would be out of a job, and the reality is that I have never been busier.”
Being aware of yourself
So how can mindfulness help in a relationship? And how realistic is it for someone to be mindful in the heat of an argument?
Helen says, “It’s about having better communication – not with each other, but with yourself. When an argument starts, rather than bubbling away with anger, it means looking inwards and realising that the anger was not given to you by them – they didn’t make you angry.
Your anger is your reaction to something they have said or done.”
This is a real shift in perspective. Rather than slipping into the passive victim role and focusing on them and what they have done to you, now you are active, powerful, focusing on yourself and being aware of your own side in the situation.
“When you have been triggered, it’s about keeping your emotions in balance and looking at the reaction it has triggered in you. If you were able to notice it, you would be less likely to be ship-wrecked by your own emotions and reactions. It’s a great tool for staying close to your partner and being able to really listen to what they are saying without your own emotions getting in the way. Less hostile. Less triggered. More present.”
It certainly sounds like a better way of dealing with disagreements. Who hasn’t stopped in the middle of an argument, looked around and wondered how a simple discussion about dinner escalated into full-blown domestic war? How would a relationship be if we were equipped to diffuse an argument at the very start of it?
Helen says, “It’s not about denying what you are feeling. It’s about being able to recognise stuff as it happens be less reactive.”
Helen’s top four tips on how to use mindfulness in your relationship:
1. Practise Awareness
“Keep yourself centred. Breathe into yourself. Notice what you are feeling, before you notice what they are feeling. By becoming more aware of yourself and practising awareness regularly, you will be more likely to be able to be calm, centred and aware when in a pressured situation too.”
2. Practise Together
“Set aside time to connect to each other through a daily practice of mindfulness. I always say, ‘couples that breathe together, stay together.’ I love it when I see a couple coming to our mindfulness workshop together and to see them sitting together discussing the topics and the practice. One of the things we do is ask each person in the workshop to formulate an intention for the person next to them. When it’s a couple sitting next to each other, they end up setting intentions for each other – which I think is lovely. They often end up setting the same intention for each other and doing it together. It’s a wonderful thing to do with your partner. To say, ‘Let’s just sit quietly together. And breathe into the day. And make space for each other.”
3. Mindful Listening
“One of the most important things in a relationship is to listen properly to the other person. When couples come to see me for help with their relationship, I often ask one of them to speak and then get the other person to repeat what they just heard. You would be amazed at how often what a person thinks they heard is totally different from what the other person thinks they just said.
“In our mindfulness workshops, one of the things we work on is listening – how to mindfully listen and consciously connect with your partner while they are speaking. It’s about creating a safe, open, non-judgemental space for you and your partner to talk about what you are thinking and feeling and connect with each other.”
4. Mindful Eating
“Make a choice to regularly eat together – to sit together, away from the TV and away from your phones and focus on the food. A mealtime can be a mini retreat for a couple – an opportunity to pause and enjoy some time together.”
Codependency and mindfulness
Although it has long been one of the main issues affecting couples and relationships, most people don’t understand what codependency actually means (and it doesn’t mean needing to be together all the time).
Helen says, “We often partner with someone who has a trait that we don’t, so we can get it – for example someone very disorganised may be attracted to people who are very organised. But when it comes to relationships, two halves don’t make a whole. Two wholes do.
“Codependency means that you are hurt yourself, but you are too busy healing the wounds of your partner to look after yourself. It’s when the other person has become the pivotal person in your relationship, rather than yourself. When you find yourself putting too much energy into trying to change, or manage, or help, or support your partner.
“We all need to feel wanted. We all need safety and ‘belonging-ness’. And we often reach out to other people to do that for us without even being aware that we are doing it.”
For details of mindfulness workshops or codependency workshops (CCC – Couples, Communication and Codependency), visit mindfulme.me
Aquarius review: Mindfulness workshop
Aquarius deputy editor Tabi tries Mindful ME’s month-long course
“I booked in for this course, which consists of four weekly two-hour evening sessions, because I wanted to reset my emotional compass – I’d been feeling stressed and anxious and I was aware that I wasn’t dealing with it as well as I could be.
The workshop was held in a room at Dubai British School in the Springs, and was attended by a friendly group of women and men of all ages. The sessions involved Helen talking through mindfulness quotes and approaches, aided by slides projected on the wall, interspersed with group discussions, practical exercises and breathing techniques.
Although I didn’t notice it while it was happening, by the last session I really felt like I’d had an emotional overhaul. There were so many mindfulness techniques that have reset the way I think, but one of the most major is tuning into that space between reacting to something and responding to it, and realising not only that we have a choice about how we respond, but also that we don’t need to deny our negative emotions, but can instead acknowledge them, with compassion for ourselves rather than frustration. The idea that ‘I am not my thoughts, I am the person who thinks them’, was also revelatory. All of the teachings would be hugely useful in the context of relationships too – after all, we are all looking for partners who will say the nice things to us that we won’t say to ourselves. Mindfulness empowers us to say those things to ourself, so that we have space and time to find the person who is really right for us.”
Dh1,200 for four sessions, after which you can return for refresher courses free of charge as a member of the mindfulness community.
The Mindful ME team on healthier, happier relationships:
“Mindfulness and having a consciousness of mind is not easy without learning. If it came naturally to us, I would be out of a job. And I have never been busier.” - Helen
“Consciously practising Mindfulness helps clear through the clutter of your thoughts, enabling you to reach into the real root of the problem.” - Bindu
“Practising mindfulness helps soften anxiety, giving us room to enjoy the present moment. This enables us to genuinely and non-judgementally connect to other people and, most vitally, to ourselves. ” - Cindy
Photos by Aiza Castillo-Domingo/Shutterstock