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Mindful : April 2017
repair following conflict. In the study, partners’ cortisol levels spiked during arguments, reflecting high stress. However, cortisol levels in those with greater mindfulness were quicker to return to normal once the conflict ended. Researchers surmise that mindfulness helps people regulate their emotions more quickly, respond to their partner with increased empathy, and disengage faster from conflicts that turn destructive. A beneficial way to handle conflicts that threaten to escalate is for part- ners to take an intentional pause, or time-out. In fact, the day I interview Geo he tells me that he had asked for a time-out that morning when a con- versation he was having with his wife began to generate negative feelings in him. “Debra and I are sensitive people with hot buttons embedded in our software,” he says, noting that in the past it might have taken them a few hours to resume talking, whereas today it took only about ten minutes. “Even though people may want to be conscious and empathic, there are times when we all get flooded with emotion,” he explains. This flooding, which increases heart rate and blood pressure and launches us into full-on fight or flight mode, is usually a signal that some childhood wound has been triggered. When that happens, Geo advises, it’s wise to take a break, with a clear agreement as to when the time-out will be over. The 100% Solution Since taking the couples’ workshop and researching this story, there are two concepts that have made an indel- ible impression on me. The first is that both partners are 100% responsible for their own happiness—and unhap- piness—as individuals and in the context of their relationship. “People thrive in a climate of 100% accountability, where nobody blames or claims victim status,” Katie Hen- dricks told me. “Taking responsibility means acknowledging that you’re two whole people, and when issues arise each person asks her- or himself, ‘ How am I creating this situation?’ The only way to break out of the cycle of chronic blame and criticism is to take ownership of whatever is going on, and release the other person from having anything to do with it.” From such an empowered position, she continues, “problems can be solved quickly, because time and energy are not squandered in a fruitless attempt to find fault with the other person. And by taking full responsibility for our own lives, we reclaim our cre- ativity. We free ourselves up. It’s not so much a moral issue as an energetic issue. When there isn’t any blame or criticism, appreciation becomes the ground of the relationship.” Alterna- tively, she says, when people remain locked in struggle, they perpetuate the struggle as long as they’re convinced they’re victims. For the most part, Hugh and I are pretty good at taking responsibility for our own behavior and choices, and when blame or criticism do arise, they don’t stick. Yet, I think the reason why the idea of 100% responsibility has resonated so deeply with me is that I was married once before, to a man who was a world-class victim— an unconscious but intractable trait that led to our divorce. From the time I met this man, an artist, he claimed to be used, abused, hurt, disrespected, unfairly rejected and misunderstood by just about everyone, from his parents and sister to the high priests of the art world to people he worked for, as well as his children, his second wife and, of course, me. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have good cause for his woundedness: his dad was cruel and his mother was too frightened to pro- tect him. Still, to the end of his days— he passed away a year ago—my ex remained chronically unable to own his part in his story—and suffered terribly as a result. Hugh and I don’t keep secrets (as far as I know!) and we don’t tell other people things we wouldn’t tell each other. Nevertheless, the second concept in this relationship business that really strikes a chord with me is: transparency. Maybe that’s because earlier in my life I did keep secrets, painful, confusing secrets, that left me feeling separate and alone, and took years of therapy, meditation, and a memoir to unpack. I’m familiar with the sense of freedom that comes from telling the truth, but there’s some- thing about committing to transpar- ency as a practice that makes me feel even more connected to Hugh. “The willingness to be transparent with your partner, to reveal rather than conceal, is the key commitment,” After receiving gratitude, participants saw their partner as significantly more responsive to their needs and were generally more satisfied with their relationship. 64 mindful April 2017 relationships