It’s no secret relationships ebb and flow from one extreme to the other, and everything in between. One moment you could be sharing a candlelight dinner together, sipping wine and totally in love. Next, you could be screaming at the top of your lungs, feeling every difficult emotion imaginable.
The key to strengthening your relationship in a meaningful way is with mindfulness—especially when big scary feelings like anger, sadness, or jealousy arise. When you become more self-aware of your emotions, you’ll have a better grip on how you handle your responses.
Need a hand? Here are three tips to help you deal with difficult feelings in a mindful way during an argument with your spouse.
1. Pause, address and identify your emotions
Emotions often elicit some sort of response—some healthy, some not-so-healthy. If you’re angry, you may have a tendency to throw a tantrum. If you’re sad, you may want to cry. If you’re overjoyed, you may want to get up and dance. You get the idea! But for some, the response doesn’t always fit the emotion. You may be angry, but your reaction is to bottle it up and explode a month later when something insignificant happens, like forgetting to grab a gallon of milk at the grocery store. You may be sad, but instead of crying, you throw a vase against the wall.
Remember: You’re allowed to step away when something triggers you, even if it’s for a moment. When a difficult emotion shows up, the trick is to turn toward it with 100% of your attention. First, notice where you’re feeling the emotion in your body. Is it welling up in your throat? Tightening in your chest? Pounding throughout your entire body?
Next, you’ll want to identify and label the emotion—anger, anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, sadness, or shame. It may be uncomfortable, but don’t deny or ignore it. This emotion is showing up for a reason, usually to protect you (whether warranted or unwarranted). Listen to it, embrace it, question it, challenge it. What is it trying to tell you? What specifically triggered you? Is this a pattern? Are you feeling something deeper? Is it possible your partner didn’t do anything wrong, and maybe you’re having a rough day? How can you thank the emotion for showing up?
2. Recognize this moment is fleeting
You are not your emotions—they come and go like clouds in the sky! Just because you’re angry in the moment doesn’t mean you’re an angry person. Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean this sadness will last forever.
When you’re caught up in the throes of an argument with your partner, it’s easy to imagine you’re going to be fighting forever. Unfortunately, this can lead to black-or-white thinking, where you start believing your entire relationship is centered around this difficult emotion 24/7. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
We’re always fighting!
I’ve been unhappy with you for years.
You never spend time with me.
Using all-or-nothing words like “always” and “never” are a recipe for disaster, and they’re often untrue. The reality is maybe just a few days ago, you were snuggled up together on the couch watching a movie, happy as can be. Instead, address your emotions as they relate to this moment—from there, allow them to morph or evaporate naturally. In other words, let go of your need to control them. Instead, be open to the outcome and what unfolds with patience.
3. Secure your oxygen mask first, then your partner’s
Addressing your emotions in a mindful, healthy way not only benefits you, but your partner too. When you give yourself space to be compassionate and patient with your feelings and what you want, you’re better able to show up for your significant other and really listen to what they have to say. This act of kindness toward yourself allows you to discover the reality of your emotions, which will ultimately give you the right perspective to solve the matter at hand. The goal is to no longer be driven by your emotions, but work with them in tandem to promote empathy, compassion, and connection within your relationship.
These tips may take some getting used to, but as you continue to practice this exercise, it’ll eventually become second nature.
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