Updated: Jun 19, 2019
How being mindful of delight in our relationships can create greater tenderness and connection.
Listening to an interview with poet Ross Gay this morning, regarding his year-long ‘delight’ project, allowed me to recognize how his practice of noticing delight in his daily life was remarkably similar to developing tenderness toward our partner. When couples are in conflict, or have lost the easy flow of their relationship one of the first casualties is the joy they once derived from each other. As the focus upon our partner begins to wane, or is overwhelmed by daily stressors, we may begin to over emphasize our own needs at the expense of our partner. Sadly, this turn of events can lead toward resentments, blame, and emotional isolation.
Gay’s project was quite simple. He dedicated every day for a year to document a moment of delight that he experienced each day. As a poet he would then transform these ‘delights’ into poems. For Gay this could be noticing the beauty of a ragged field of wild flowers, or watching a child happily running down the center isle during a plane flight.
What Gay was essentially engaging in was mindfulness, mindfulness in search of delight. While mindfulness may be associated with attention, the notion is to move more deeply into a moment then mere awareness. Mindfulness requests that we feel the experience of what we are focusing upon. Allowing us to absorb the richness of the moment, and note how it transforms us.
Couples and relationships in distress have lost the ability to find the delight in each partner. In order to correct this track, mindfulness of how our partner brings us joy must be re-engaged. The process of shifting our sensitivity from negative interactions to recognition of positive ones’ must begin as a conscious choice. Absent that, our non-conscious brain will default toward the prioritization of our own needs above that of our partner, leading back toward blame and emotional avoidance.
Mindfulness is often called a ‘practice’ for good reason, our ability to be more present, aware, and participatory, requires some practice. Growth, a term I use rather than change, is an aspect of patterning, a non-conscious habit, if you will. Just as we developed a negative interactional pattern with our partner, only hearing the music that was out of tune, we can grow into a different pattern, through the practice of listening to the music that is more in tune, more positive, and inclusive of our partner’s needs. As Susan Johnson PhD, the founder of Emotion Focused Couples Therapy, is fond of saying, if you change the music, you can change the dance, back toward a relationship that flows rather than being constricted.
By becoming more mindful of the delight that our partner brings to us, we can begin to shift the pattern relationally. Additionally, if we can become more mindful of how we may be neglecting our partner’s needs, inhibiting their delight for us, we again begin to contribute in changing the music. Becoming more mindful of the joy that our partner presents and how we may reflect it back, encourages our tenderness, our ability to default toward kindness, and compassion, and begin to hear love where we once heard discord.