Mindfulness is something which tends to be thought of as a solitary state, something we cultivate individually rather than in combination with others. It accompanies the act of meditation or a quiet walk alone in the countryside.
But mindfulness can also play an important role in the ways we conduct our relationships, particularly our relationships with those we are closest to. Help in understanding what a mindful relationship might be like, is provided by couples therapist Harvell Hendrix in his well-known self-help book, Getting the Love You Want.
Although he doesn’t use the term ‘mindfulness’, Hendrix draws a distinction between what he calls the unconscious partnership and the conscious partnership.
Where as in an unconscious partnership we are driven thoughtlessly by instincts and emotions that derive from our past, often meaning we default to childhood responses when differences develop between us, in a conscious partnership we take control over those emotions and conduct ourselves in a more self-aware, considered, and caring way.
For Hendrix the unconscious partnership is one which we go through ‘as if we were asleep, engaging in routine interactions that give us little pleasure’. In a conscious partnership on the other hand we are awake to the pleasures, possibilities, comforts and rewards that a long-term relationship can bring.
Being ‘awake’ in the way described here, as opposed to sleepwalking through life, is exactly what mindfulness is all about. The self-help exercises Hendrix offers for couples in his book can be useful in building a more mindful attitude towards one another and to the ways we conduct our partnerships.