Have you ever had an experience while talking to someone that they’re not really listening to you? Whether it’s on a first date or even with a long-term partner, you find them nodding, asking you to repeat yourself, watching a TV screen in the background, or consumed with their own thoughts.
Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that you’ve unintentionally done this to someone else as well. While it may seem benign at first, not being present in the moment can be viewed as, “I’m not interested” or “I don’t care” to the person at the receiving end. On an ongoing basis, this leads to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and the potential end of a relationship.
If you want to have a long-lasting, successful relationship, it is essential to move beyond the standard definition of communication – i.e. back and forth conversation – and learn the art of mindful communication.
What Is Mindful Communication?
Mindfulness is defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (1)
Mindful communication, therefore, refers to the process of being present during your interactions with other people. When you are undistracted and present in the moment, you will be better able to empathize with others, pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues, and be more sensitive to a different point of view, or situational context i.e. has this person had a bad day? (1)
The Benefits of Mindful Communication
While cultivating mindfulness has most often associated with reduced stress and anxiety, practitioners have also started using it as a tool to resolve and prevent conflict amongst couples, and to improve their overall relationships. (2)
For example, Dr. James Carson and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina found that an 8-week mindfulness training program led to higher relationship satisfaction for all participating couples. (2)
Another study by Wachs and Cordova also found a strong positive correlation between mindfulness and global marital adjustment. The research states that, “more mindful partners literally see each other more clearly, regard each other more nonjudgmentally, behave more responsively toward each other, and navigate challenging waters of intimacy more gracefully.” (3)
How To Communicate Better Using Mindful Meditation
Fortunately, mindfulness can be cultivated in a structured and practical manner on a daily basis with the aid of meditation. This is because meditation drives behavioural changes at a physiological level – it has the ability to physically alter the brain, by strengthening neural connections that encourage more rational behaviour, while weakening others that drive fear and irrational, emotional responses.
More specifically, meditation develops and nurtures mindful communication in the following ways: (4) (5)
1. Increased emotional intelligence and resilience
Quite simply put, meditation helps you let things go, and bounce back from negative emotions at a much faster rate. How so? Meditation strengthens the lateral prefrontal cortex, also known as the ‘assessment centre’. This is the portion of the brain that allows you to look at a situation from a more rational and logical perspective, and it decreases the tendency to take things personally.
In a relationship, this helps view a situation from a more rational perspective, and create space between immediate judgments and responses. You may find yourself snapping less at your partner, or not taking every comment as a personal attack.
2. Reduced reactivity
MRI scans have shown that an 8-week mindfulness meditation program can shrink the amygdala, the primal portion of the brain that governs initial emotional reactions to stress, such as anger and fear. Meditation was also able to weaken the connection between the amygdala and other areas of the brain so that it was activated less often.
Meditation essentially creates an emotional circuit breaker, lessening feels of fear and insecurity i.e. “is he or she going to leave me?”
3. Greater empathy
Research shows that the connection between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex – the ‘me centre’ of the brain that references back to your perspective and also infers other people’s state of mind – and the insula – involved in ‘gut-level’ feelings – becomes stronger after meditation. This strengthened connection enhances your capacity to understand where another person is coming from, and put yourself in their shoes.
4. Improved self-awareness
Have you ever been in a relationship that made you forget who you were or made you lose sight of your values? Relationships do require vulnerability, however that doesn’t mean letting emotions and thoughts carry you away. As noted in the research above, since meditation helps strengthen the rational parts and intuitive parts of the brain on a daily basis, you will be more in tune with what feels right, what feels wrong, and whether a particular relationship is right for you.
This self-awareness also extends to greater ‘gut level’ intuition, which is governed by the insula region of the brain. The role of the insula is to monitor bodily sensations and assesses whether they are benign or harmful, and a strengthened insula will be better able to pick up on bodily cues from the muscles, skin, ears and eyes if something doesn’t feel right.
Tips On How To Communicate Better
If you would like to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, you can view this beginner’s meditation guide here.
You can also reap the benefits of mindful communication by incorporating some of the strategies below into your communication with a current or new partner:
- Clear your head before beginning a conversation
- Listen to your partner without interrupting
- Make direct eye contact
- Allow your partner to share negative emotions without needing to fix it
- Put yourself in your partner’s shoes, do not look at a situation from your perspective
- Do not make assumptions, ask for clarification
- Choose your words carefully. Before you say something, ask yourself if you would like it if this was said to you
Communication can make or break a relationship, but it is important to remember that the first step towards being a better communicator has to begin with you being more mindful in your daily interactions, and cultivating greater self-awareness.
- Hall, E. (2017). Communicating Mindfully in Relationships. [online] Psychology Today. Available at:https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conscious-communication/201709/communicating-mindfully-in-relationships [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].
- CARSON, J., CARSON, K., GIL, K. and BAUCOM, D. (2006). MINDFULNESS-BASED RELATIONSHIP ENHANCEMENT (MBRE) IN COUPLES. Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches, pp.309-331.
- Wachs, K. and Cordova, J. (2007). Mindful Relating: Exploring Mindfulness and Emotion Repertoires in Intimate Relationships. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), pp.464-481.
- Lucas, M. (2009). Nine ways a meditating brain creates better relationships. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rewire-your-brain-love/200911/nine-ways-meditating-brain-creates-better-relationships [Access 24 Apr. 2018]
- Gladding, R. (2013). This is your brain on meditation. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].