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Mindful : December 2013
68 mindful December 2013 Would navigating a couple of messy days kill you? My boyfriend of three years is ada- mant: he doesn’t want to get married until his finances are stable. But he’s so far in debt that it could take him a couple of years, and I’m ready right now! Should I wait? Is this really about finances? Sounds like your boyfriend isn’t actually ready to marry. To wait or not to wait isn’t the real question. This impasse is a n invitation for you both to communicate more deep- ly and dive into greater intimacy. When he says he wants to wait, what’s he really saying? Does he want a gold star for being responsible or is he looking for a way to slow things down? Or back out? And what about you? Why are you bent on getting married now? Feeling impulsive? Craving commitment? Secu- rity? Or are you sensing drift and fearing you’ll lose him? Start by looking into what you hope for by marrying sooner and what scares you about waiting, and get acquainted with your boyfriend’s hopes and fea rs, too. My sister has acute rheumatoid arthritis, and I help her out. But the more time we spend together, the more drained I get. I know she’s over- whelmed with pain sometimes and I want to continue to be there for her, but how do I take care of myself? Ca regiving is tough—long-term caregiv- ing tougher still. Your sister is lucky to have you. When we’re around someone who is suffering, many neuroscientists believe that our mirror neurons reflect into our own bodies the other person’s distress. In other words, pain is contagious. But pain—our own pain and the pain we feel from others—is more pliable tha n we think. The anxiety we add to pain is one of the things that ma kes it seem unbearable. So start by paying attention. Notice what happens to your body, your emo- tions, and your state of mind when you’re with your sister. Notice your breathing. See any patterns? Doing this, you can turn a vague sense of feeling overwhelmed into something more workable. And you can better replenish your own strength because you know exactly what you need. Try taking on-the-spot mini-breaks when you’re with your sister: soften your breathing, relax your body, and start over. Instead of holding on to her pain, try to be conscious of releasing it. You might see that your reactions are not all that solid—they come and go. And when you leave, you can do the same with the leftover pain. Keep it simple: rest, take breaks, and treat each visit as unique. When you’re with your sister, be there fully, but when you leave, let it all go. An old college roommate insists I stay at his place when I’m in town for a conference. Let’s just say he wasn’t my tidiest roommate ever. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I really need a clean, comfortable place when I travel. Whoa, wait a minute—a re you sure your friend is still a slob? Is it possible that he’s keen on showing off his newly civi- lized lifestyle? And if not, would navigat- ing a couple of messy days kill you? If the unknown dangers of errant socks and less-than-fresh sheets is just too much to bear, invite him for dinner and scope out his place when you pick him up. If you’re horrified, your confer- ence is an easy out—staying at a nearby hotel for convenience’s sake is tough to argue with. Wherever you sleep, this is a great opportunity to explore the nature of your friendship. Feelings don’t get hurt; people do. Why? Because they don’t get what they want. If he’s insisting more than inviting, what might be behind that? In the end, that may prove a more interesting investigation than whether or not he’s dusted lately. ● relationships in practice Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo Ask Ms. Mindful