Jamal knows why he and his girlfriend have problems: “I bottle up my feelings.” Monique says the fights with her roommate happened because “we weren’t bringing up the small issues regularly.” Dominic and his boyfriend broke up because “nobody could admit they were wrong.” (These responses are from a recent Student Health 101 survey.)
What do these students have in common? For them, communication breakdowns became relationship breakdowns. Using mindfulness to stay calm and present can make it easier to talk out the irritations and insecurities that arise in any relationship.
Clear communication is the key to a strong connection, whether that’s with your family, roommate, partner, professor, boss, or anyone else. Unfortunately, it can be hard to say what’s on your mind. It can be just as hard to hear what’s on someone else’s.
Practicing mindfulness isn’t just about listening to a guided meditation or breathing deeply and deliberately. It’s also about applying those skills as you go through your day; for example, by slowing down your reactions and giving yourself the time and space to be thoughtful. Next time you’ve got something on your mind, follow these steps.
- Check in with yourself. Are you super rattled? Wait until you’re calm enough to have a thoughtful conversation.
- Think about what you want to say. Is it true, kind, necessary, and the right time?
- Use “I” statements: “I am feeling hurt and angry,” not “You are a thoughtless jerk.”
- Listening is more important than speaking. Listen fully until you understand the other person’s perspective and feelings.
- In a difficult conversation, “respond,” don’t “react.” Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, take a couple of breaths and let the first wave of emotion pass. Then, respond truthfully, directly, and kindly.
- Made a mistake? Saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it is the only way to right a wrong.
- It’s easy to notice the things that drive us crazy. Make an effort to also notice the kindness and humor in your close connections.
Tip: The secret to happy relationships? Keep the compliments coming. Research shows that couples stayed happy as long as the partners complimented each other five times more often than they criticized.
Dr. Holly Rogers co-developed the Koru Mindfulness program for college students (currently available on more than 60 campuses in the US). Trials have shown that the Koru program is effective in helping students feel less stressed, better rested, more compassionate, and more mindful. Dr. Rogers is a psychiatrist at Duke University and co-author of Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives (Oxford University Press, 2012).