Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships
Welcome back! Thanks again to Allison Maxim, owner and Family Law attorney of Maxim Law for inviting me to write this guest blog for her website. In Part I of this two-part blog series, I discussed the importance of safety in a relationship and what that means to men and couples. In this post, we will discuss two other elements necessary for a fulfilling, intimate, trusting, and lasting relationship: mindfulness and independence. Please visit the links included in this post to access more information including tools, videos, and tip sheets. Let’s start with Mindfulness.
Mindfulness: Stepping Inward to Live a Genuine and Peaceful Life
Do you ever wonder what exactly is going through a man's mind? I wonder that myself, and I am a man! As a therapist who works with men who are struggling with relationships, I help men focus on the most important relationship they will ever have - the relationship they have with themselves. If men are unable to love themselves unconditionally, there is absolutely no way we will be capable of loving others with that same vital and unconditional love.
Men's mindfulness can come in many different shapes and sizes. There are an infinite number of ways that us men incorporate mindfulness in our lives, and most of the time, we don't even realize it. Petting the dog, playing catch, taking a walk, working out, slowly eating a sandwich, cooking, cleaning the house, making love… the list goes on and on. We often forget or dismiss that these activities are indeed mindfulness practices.
My hope is that more courageous men intentionally practice mindfulness, especially within the relationship we have with our partner. We need to put our phones down, turn off Netflix and listen to each other. I mean REALLY listen! Be curious and ask questions about what our partner is talking about. Not in an accusatory way, but in a calm and gentle way. By emotionally connecting with our partner, we improve our active listening skills which can help enhance and strengthen our relationships with our partner.
Independence: Absence CAN Make the Heart Grow Fonder
All relationships include sacrifice, compromise and unconditional love. And sometimes, that means that we engage in activities that do not involve our partner. Research finds that the happiest and most fulfilling relationships are ones that allow space and time away from our partner. If this time spent away from each other is viewed as positive, this is a much healthier outlook than if it is seen as selfish or disconnecting.
World renowned therapist, Dr. John Gottman, has researched and studied relationships between couples for decades. Many couples come into my office with various levels of the Four Horsemen alive and present. When criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are active within our intimate relationships, the more difficult it is for couples to grow into a healthy partnership.
We do need to be careful of how much and how often we do separate activities, though. We don't want our partner resenting our time away from them, and we want to reassure them that we are not looking to escape, but simply have the need to engage in activities with ourselves or others. Assertive communication is key here, which leads us back to safety. Our partners need to know that we are coming back and that we love them unconditionally.
At the end of the day, our partner needs to trust that we will be coming home to them. Local hip hop group Atmosphere (Rhymesayers) released a song called "Always Coming Back Home To You" and I think it fits this sentiment quite nicely. My own interpretation of the song is about the comfort, safety and unconditional love that a committed relationship can provide. "From the heaven I've had to the hell I've been through, I'm always coming back home to you".