Productive marital conflict can help you work through complex challenges and compromise on important issues. But it’s easy to get reactive during conflicts and feel the survival urge to fight, flee or freeze. If reactivity becomes the norm, you could also become unhappy and frustrated in your marriage. Try using mindfulness to become more aware, present and productive as you resolve conflicts.
Understanding the Benefits of Mindfulness
The term mindfulness describes your awareness of the present moment. It involves you noticing what you think in your mind, feel in your body and experience in your emotions.
With mindfulness, you practice awareness without judgment. That means you don’t define yourself based on what you think, feel or experience.
Mindfulness also allows you to hold space for your strong emotions and avoid unhealthy reactivity, such as spouting off insults. Instead, you can witness and take ownership for your own self, which allows you to release what you think, feel and experience.
Likewise, mindfulness allows you to develop compassion and understanding for your partner. As you regulate yourself and your responses, you stop taking everything personally. Then, you can more fully accept your spouse in the moment.
Conflict resolution is easier thanks to mindfulness, too. Observing your thoughts, body and emotions from a distance helps you gain clarity and stop ruminating over the details of the conflict. Then, you can discover solutions that could lead to reconciliation.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a learned skill. It takes a few weeks to rewire your brain and see positive effects. So, keep practicing until you feel comfortable exercising mindfulness strategies when tensions arise or during heated arguments. Here are a few steps you can take as you practice this skill.
1. Pause and Take a Break.
Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Notice the expansionPas in your lungs, chest and abdomen. Continue breathing for several minutes to center and ground yourself in the present moment.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Feel Whatever Emotions Arise
Thoughts, feelings and emotions are not right or wrong. They simply are. And, they are temporary and move through you within a few minutes. So, label what you feel, such as embarrassment, disappointment, anger, or anxiety. And allow yourself to experience whatever arises without judgment.
3. Perform a Head-to-Toe Body Scan.
Note the sensations that accompany your thoughts and feelings. For example, is your jaw clenched, your fists tightened or your legs twitching? You don’t have to do anything about these sensations. Simply notice them.
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4. Relax Into Your Breath.
Continue to breathe slowly and add a pause at the end of each exhale. When you pause, also relax and soften your body, one muscle at a time.
5. Remind Yourself that You Have Choices.
In addition to your intense thoughts, feelings and emotions, you also have space to choose. Your sense of self-agency allows you to be patient with yourself when you feel hurt, angry, or sad. And you can choose your reaction in the moment. You can even choose to return to challenging discussions at a later time, if necessary. Though difficult, it’s better to revisit a hot button topic if one or both parties become so upset that they cannot control themselves and risk blurting out something hurtful that they don’t really mean.
6. Be Curious About Yourself
When you make time to pause and sit with yourself, you also create space to consider why you and your spouse act the way you do. With loving kindness, you can ask questions like, “What is the origin of this thought, feeling or emotion? What am I identifying with? What is keeping me tied to this thought, feeling or emotion?” This curiosity opens your mind and can help you change your patterns of behavior.
7. Use Kind Speech.
Despite your intense thoughts, feelings and emotions, avoid saying negative or hurtful comments. Name-calling, profanity, threats, and insults cause more pain and escalate rather than resolve conflict.
8. Notice Changes in Yourself, Your Marriage, and Your Conflict Patterns.
Note any shifts in reactivity, compassion or resolution. Even small disentanglements from your former behaviors or slight shifts in your perspective can yield positive changes in the way you respond to conflict.
Continue Practicing Mindfulness
Ideally, both you and your spouse will practice mindfulness. But even if you alone engage in this practice, you can see change as you become slower to react, make more conscious choices, and gain a deeper and more compassionate understanding of yourself and your partner. With these strategies, you can resolve conflicts successfully.
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