Relationships are hard work, and I would understand if the pandemic is making things even more difficult. Perhaps you’ve had to call off trips to visit relatives, cancel your plans to go to a good friend’s wedding or abandon your daily commute to the office. You can Zoom, of course, but Zoom only goes so far. Or, conversely, maybe you haven’t been able to stop seeing people, like your spouse, children, partner, or housemates. Too much space or not enough can definitely stress a relationship.
In my experience, when I’m experiencing strain in a relationship, the first place to check is always myself. Am I under stress and not able to give the other person the attention they deserve? Am I not giving myself what I need? Do I even know what that is?
Meditation practice is a wonderful support for the relationships in your life because of the healthy way it allows you to orient yourself. It isn’t selfish to pay attention to yourself in a relationship. Self-reflection and self-compassion are the foundation of a good relationship. Whether or not your relationships are under strain, regular meditation can help you be more centered, confident, and available to others in your life. If you’re curious, read on.
The personal of interpersonal
Healthy relationships start with healthy people. We cannot care for others without first caring for ourselves. Suppose we enter relationships without a foundation of self-love. In that case, we’re on the road to codependency, and it’s too easy to expect the relationship to save, improve, reform, or rescue us.
Meditation is the practice of being with yourself without judgment and enjoying your physical presence, breath, and life. The first way meditation helps your relationships is by helping you discover self-sustaining happiness and contentment in your present experience.
You don’t need your partner or best friend to be happy. Because you aren’t laying expectations on the relationship, the time you spend together can be even more enjoyable and genuine.
Who am I again?
The relationship is the glorious process of entangling yourself with another person. Your underwear isn’t the only thing getting mixed up; your aspirations, plans, fears, and hopes for the future are too.
Have you noticed how you are a different person with this or that friend, your parents, and your partner? In unhealthy relationships, you may start molding yourself to be someone you are not, just to make the relationship work.
Or you might get into what I like to call aspirational relationships, which are more about who you would like to be than who you actually are.
The second way meditation practice supports relationships is that it helps you understand and appreciate who you are and what you need right now.
True meditation is not just obsessing and ruminating over something, as in reliving a mistake or overthinking a past conversation. Like unwrapping a many-layered present, meditation practice allows you to work through these layers of identity and reveal the genuine you.
There isn’t a 100% never-changing person deep inside us, by the way. We change.
In the 15 years, I’ve been practicing meditation, I’ve changed a lot, and the practice has changed with me. But it’s always helped me navigate through shifting identities to be in right relationship with others in my life.
Saying “Yes” and “No”
Self-sustaining contentment and a deeper sense of self together lead to showing up with confidence in our lives. Good boundaries make for good relationships.
Typically when we think of boundaries, we think of saying “No!” and keeping others out. But a good boundary is just as much about as saying, “Yes!” Take, for example, the security gate at a baseball game. They might turn a few people away, but they admit the vast majority of fans to enjoy the game. If they turned away people who should be admitted or admitted people who should stay out, they would be pretty bad at their jobs.
Boundaries get mixed up in relationships all the time. What should we accept and let in? What should we say no to? Are we genuinely giving our attention and love, or just because we think we have to?
With healthy boundaries, we can start to disentangle the places where our boundaries have gotten confused. This is the third way a meditation practice strengthens our ability to be in a relationship. It gives us accurate self-knowledge and the strength necessary to say “Yes” and “No” at the right times for us.
Bringing meditation into your life
Whether you are new to meditation or you’d like to renew a commitment to practice, it is something you can do to enrich and empower the relationships in your life.
I invite you to try one of these introductory meditations as a place to start with learning the essential techniques of breathing mindfulness meditation. Take it slow, don’t expect perfection, and appreciate that you are putting care and effort into the most important relationship in your life: your relationship with yourself.