We may think of meditation as a way to grow inner peace. But have you considered how a meditation practice can create a climate that deepens intimacy and improves communication in your relationships?
John Gottman’s research into what makes marriages succeed reveals that when partnerships are tarnished with 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 love and connection?
Uncovering Deeper Feelings
Our tendency to criticize, attack, or diagnose others (“you’re self-centered, arrogant, and only think about yourself”) can be ways to vent anger and signal our discontent. In Attachment Theory language, this may be an attachment protest – a way to act out the pain of not feeling connected.
A vital question is this: what happens internally when we spew criticism, rage, or blame – or when we retreat 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. Sadly, our reactive anger and blame may push away our partner or friend, leaving us feeling even more frustrated.
Or, our sense of powerlessness may lead to a quiet withdrawal. Seeking relief from the pain of being shamed or criticized, we may stonewall: we shut down because we don’t want the situation to escalate. 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 clear: we’re hurting inside. But it isn’t easy for us to access these vulnerable feelings and courageously express them and see what happens.
Meditation or mindfulness practice is a way to slow down and notice what we’re actually feeling inside. We can’t 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 – not too close or too far – can enable us to find some equanimity in relation to difficult or scary emotions.
Meditation helps our physiology slow down enough to access what we’re really feeling inside. As we get our arms around our more deeply felt experience – as we hold our emotions in a gentle, caring way instead of acting them out – they have a chance to settle. We’re then better positioned to share what we’re really experiencing without the toxic effects generated 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 desire, 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 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 minds. They may or not be true. Even if true, they are more likely to create distance than connection.
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 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 judgments about the other person: “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. It’s a way to make friends with 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 fulfilling connections we long for.