No one enters a relationship thinking, “I’ll love you for a year or two, but then I’ll get cold, distant, and dissatisfied. Perhaps we’ll try some contempt and silence at that point.” Well, maybe the rogue sociopath does. The rest of us, however, start out with the best intentions. We intend to love each other with all our hearts.
We promise to love each other forever—that is, we promise to feel love forever.
We make big promises, and then we break them. Then we blame ourselves for breaking them and blame our partners for pushing us to that break. We never ask ourselves if such promises can actually be kept.
Imagine promising your friend that you’ll enjoy the smell of her cooking forever, no matter what dishes she prepares. You can promise all you want, but your nose functions under the rules of automatic reflexes that will deny your best intentions. All it takes is one foul smell.
It is the same with our emotions, with our hearts.
The truth is that emotions are not really under our direct, conscious control. We can certainly try to control them, but you and I both already know that it’s futile. You’ve loved someone you wished you didn’t. You’ve been embarrassed when you wanted to be confident. You’ve been numb when you wanted to feel and you’ve felt when you wanted to be numb. Trying to either suppress or force emotions is a losing game.
So what can we do?
Einstein once said, “A problem cannot be fixed at the same level of thinking that created it.” Nothing can be changed at the same level at which it’s created. We can’t make our muscles grow by poking at them, nor can we make flowers grow by stretching out their stems. If we want bigger muscles, we need to exercise. If we want growing flowers, we need to tend to the soil.
If we want to change our emotions, we must change our minds.
The mind is the originator of emotions. Whether we find ourselves in strong connection or deep disgust, whether we’re aware of it or not, there are thoughts that run through our heads before that emotion takes hold. We need to simply stop and listen for them, instead of automatically reacting to them. When we are mindful this way, we can see the link between heart and mind.
Someone who loves her partner with all her heart must first love him with all her mind. This is easy at the beginning of a relationship, but if we do not take the contents of our minds into our own hands, then circumstances quickly wash all loving thoughts away, replacing them with judgment and mistrust. This is the real secret of healthy relationships: to first develop a healthy relationship with your thoughts.
Loving with the mind means shifting your awareness so that you can shift your emotional experience. Here are some ways you might do that:
- When you listen, watch your thoughts for preconceived notions and judgments, and choose to hear beyond them. The mind automatically tries to give meaning to the words you hear, and this meaning might block your ability to lovingly perceive your partner.
- Take some time each day to connect to a higher awareness of yourself. Whatever you believe in—whether you believe in the unifying power of love, God, or the Universe—take the time to connect with the world around you, and to recognize your partner as a part of that connection.
- Take time to notice your partner’s strength as well as growth areas, so you can seize opportunities to nurture what is already strong and to be gentle as well as compassionate with what is still developing.
- Get to know your partner’s triggers and get to know your own. This can not only help you communicate better in times of conflict, but also to not take what is said personally.
- In times of conflict, keep an awareness of the mind’s tendency to accept irrational thoughts as truth. Keep an awareness of this happening in your partner’s mind as well. When you stop believing all your thoughts (especially in times of high emotions), you can make choices about how you will react instead of participating in the same old cycles.
- Practice and cultivate unconditional forgiveness by cultivating a loving awareness of yourself and others.
- Be mindful of how your partner’s experience is different from yours, and how your mind tends to generalize that whatever you enjoy must be what others enjoy as well.
- Watch your mind’s tendency to engage in “either/or” thinking. When you and your partner disagree, practice seeing both of your viewpoints as valid.
- Do not let your thoughts fool you into thinking that you know everything about your partner. Always seek to understand more and connect deeper.
- Plan for a safe space for both of you. Safety does not happen automatically. It must be cultivated, especially if either of you has had past traumas. Take the time to become aware of the thought patterns that trigger you as well as the ones that make you feel comfortable. Take the time to share these with each other.
- Practice unconditional giving. Instead of wanting rewards back for everything you give, practice giving without expecting anything back. You may have to set boundaries for how much you can give to another person before you can give to yourself. Like this, you can break out of cycles of dependence.
- When some problem arises, train yourself to think of it as a misunderstanding, instead of an intentional act against you.
- When you are away from one another, watch the stories you tell yourself about what your partner is doing. Choose trusting and loving thoughts.
When we set our minds this way, loving emotions come easily. When we feel loving and loved, we are much more likely to act in loving, kind ways. When we act in loving, kind ways towards others, we trigger loving feelings in them and the cycle continues. All relationships move in cycles. We must simply choose whether those are cycles of mutual growth and support or cycles of destruction.
Of course, you can only do for your partner what you do for yourself. If you find it hard to practice these suggestions with your partner, take the time to look within and ask: am I loving myself in this way?
Like this, your relationship can be a doorway to growth, self-discovery, and profound mutual healing.
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Can you think of other ways to love your partner with your mind? What will you do today to love the people in your life more? Please share below.
(Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simoes)