As we move into Week 2 of our Mindful Relationships Challenge, we’ll be working on something that is truly transformative: staying open in the middle of stress.

Trust me, if you devote yourself to this practice, it can shift your relationship in powerful ways.

But before we can do that, it’s important to review what you’ve learned in Week 1. You (hopefully) spent the week noticing the feelings that come up and the narratives that arise in your relationships.

What can you do with that learning? It might have been difficult to watch the emotions without having action to take. The action is just noticing, without judgment if possible. Just see what happens. Learn you’re patterns. See what effect those patterns might take.

Then we can see that we don’t want to run to those patterns when we’re triggered by the other person. We can decide to train ourselves to drop the narrative, to open our heart, and to keep our heart open in the middle of the trigger (some kind of relationship stress).

A couple of examples:

  1. My partner criticized me and my narrative about how they’re always critical of me arrises. I feel frustrated. I close my heart and turn away from them (emotionally and physically). This causes them to feel abandoned, and they get angry and even more argumentative and critical, making things worse for me. I notice this pattern and decide that it’s really hurting me, and hurting our relationship. I decide I want to keep my heart open when they’re critical. In fact, I notice that this is the time when they’re hurting and need me to be compassionate. And so I train to stay open even when I feel criticized.
  2. A loved one who I care about a lot is inconsiderate, rude to me. This triggers my narrative about how they’re always unfair to me and mistreating me. This causes me to feel very angry and resentful, and I lash out at them (my pattern) by criticizing and raising my voice. They in turn find this to be an irrational and critical way to treat them, they start being more inconsiderate, and we keep triggering each other’s narratives and patterns. I realize this is keeping us apart and hurting us, and decide I need to be more open-hearted about my feedback to them, sharing vulnerably about my feelings when they treat me a certain way, instead of getting critical and lashing out.

As you can see, we start by noticing the narrative and emotions that are triggered, and then seeing the patterns that we have when those emotions and narratives arise. We can see the hurt that’s caused by all of this. Then resolve to shift the pattern to something more open-hearted. That’s what Week 1 was about, and how we’ll train in Week 2.

The Open-Hearted Training in the Middle of Stress

The problem is that, even if we want to be open-hearted, when things get stressful, we revert to our old patterns. So how can we shift? We need to train to stay open in the middle of stress, instead of shutting down.

The way to train is this:

  1. Start with a small daily practice of opening your heart to the other person. They don’t even have to be around — just sit in the morning and practice feeling compassion and love for them. Imagine that they are in pain, and you send them a loving, compassionate wish for that pain to end, for them to be happy. Practice this for a minute or three. Even five minutes.
  2. When you notice stress in your relationship during the day, see this as an opportunity to practice. Start by noticing when your familiar narrative starts to arise, along with your emotions. Can you drop the narrative and just be present with your emotions — how they feel in your body?
  3. Can you practice feeling love and compassion for them instead of focusing on your own pain and narrative? Even just a little bit is a huge victory.
  4. Continue to do this — practice opening your heart, as difficult and painful as that might seem, for a little longer, a little longer. Notice that this is met with resistance, and that’s just your mind resisting a change that feels dangerous to it. But it’s completely safe, as there is nothing wrong with feeling love and compassion, or even feeling your own pain. It’s completely OK, and you can do this!

This is how the shift happens, with training like this. Open a little longer each time. Notice when you shut down, and be compassionate with yourself when you do. Open your heart to yourself as well.

Share your victories and struggles in the #relationships channel on Slack during the week!