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Mindful : August 2013
Ask Ms. Mindful Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo relationships I’m new to mindfulness, and it’s really helping me break some old patterns. My partner, not so much. How do I handle it when I’m trying new approaches but he’s still stuck? Maybe mindfulness should come with a warning label. Yes, it calms things down (and who doesn’t want to be calmer?). But it also stirs things up. And that’s the tricky bit. It’s g reat that you’re breaking these old patterns, but a breakthrough for you may be a threat for your partner. He or she may be afraid these old patterns are the very thing holding your relationship together. The ha rder you push with your break- throughs, the more your partner may dig in. And the more stuck he or she gets, the more angry and frustrated you’re apt to become. As far as patterns go, it’s a doozy. So here’s a new breakthrough to ponder. Instead of trying to fix your partner, it might be more fruitful to apply your mindfulness practice to un- derstanding your own frustration. It’s a great area to examine where you might be a bit stuck, too. I’m 45 and got married two years ago to a wonderful woman. But a terrible car accident several months ago has left her paralyzed on her right side w ith little chance of full recovery. I love her deeply, but I’m having great difficulty rethinking our future to- gether, which will not be what either of us planned. The future? It’s helpful to think about what that is. The future doesn’t exist, except as an expectation about how things will go. In reality, our hopes and plans can, and do, disintegrate. You and your wife have had a massive lesson in that fact. A recent one, too—a few months isn’t long to come to terms with major shock, fear, a nd change. Consider what ’s really been lost. Your wife has lost control of half of her body; you seem to be mourning an idea, a future expectation about how life was supposed to play out. Don’t punish yourself for wishing the accident never happened. Instead, when you notice those thoughts—pining for a lost future or a different past—see them for what they are: impossible. Come back to what’s actually happening. The pres- ent may not be an easy place to be right now, but it’s real. It’s where you and your wife will find healing. For years my sister has relied on me for advice (you could call it non- professiona l therapy), and it’s pretty much at the root of our connection. I guess I’ve been getting something out of it too, but now I want to move the relationship forward. Can I do it without losing her? How do you stop being a therapist to your sister? By being a better therapist. Rather than cutting her off when she asks for advice, gently redirect her to her own resources and help her develop the confidence to rely on herself. That’s one of the best things a therapist can do. And instead of falling into your usual pattern, you could reverse roles and make it a point to ask your sister for her advice. Changing habits isn’t easy. You and your sister both got something out of this for yea rs. Your sister has become attached to externa l confirmation and you were attached to being her advisor. If you’re the kind of person people gener- ally come to for advice, it will be hard to escape that role. You value this relationship with your sister. From that positive foundation, you can begin to bring it into a healthier balance. ● Mindfulness calms things down, but it also stirs things up. 68 mindful August 2013 in practice