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Mindful : April 2017
participants saw their partner as significantly more responsive to their needs and were more satisfied with their relationship. These effects rever- berated six to nine months later. That didn’t surprise me at all. My friend Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food, and God, tells me that she and her husband set time aside every evening before dinner for a ritual they call “sweet talk,” in which they express their appreciation for each other—a practice, she says, that has strengthened their bond and deepened their love. Intention, it turns out, is every- thing. “Just as we exercise to keep our bodies healthy, paying attention to our inner life and to each other is necessary if we want to have a healthy relationship. We need to do it in an intentional and regular way,” says author and meditation teacher Tara Brach, who leads relationship work- shops with her husband, Jonathan Foust. The two also practice what they preach. They’ve created a twice- weekly check-in process that includes meditating, expressing gratitude, naming challenges, and, generally, exploring anything that stands between them and loving presence (see box at left). “ People need strat- egies,” says Tara. “If a couple checks in twice a week, that changes the relationship. We need to take time to remember what we’re forgetting and cherish what we have.” As Hugh and I are discovering— more each day—it’s the quality of attention we pay to each other and our relationship that energizes us and keeps our connection vital and alive. “Otherwise, so many things go unsaid and unnoticed, and we fall into a sort of automatic, semi-comatose state,” Hugh tells me. “One of the most excit- ing things for me about this process is seeing you in a different way. I didn’t expect that or to learn so much about myself in relation to you.” OK! I think. Maybe after 34 years together, Hugh and I are finally clos- ing in on that perfect semi-conscious relationship Geo joked about the day we set out on the path. ● 4 Then, deepen your inquiry by taking turns noting any- thing that might be restricting the sense of love and openness you feel toward your par tner. First, you might ask yourself: “What is between me and feeling openhearted and intimate with my par tner?” This is potentially the stickiest part of the practice, as well as the most rewarding. “Naming diffi- cult truths is the best way to bring more love and understanding into a relation- ship,” explains Tara. For example, she says, “There are times when I get busy and Jonathan takes on a larger portion of the household responsibilities and ends up feeling unappre- ciated, and I need to be reminded to express my appre- ciation. When we acknowledge what could cause resentment if left unsaid, it brings us closer together.” But, she cautions, for this step to be productive, it’s essential for both par tners to prac- tice speaking and listening from a place of vulner- ability, without blaming the other person. 5 Next, expand your inquiry to see whether there’s anyone in your wider circle of family, friends or society at large who’s important to you as an individ- ual or as a couple, and who also calls out for your attention. Take turns identifying them, and sense what might serve well-being in this larger domain of relationship. 6 Lastly, enjoy some moments of silent appreciation together, ideally in a long, tender hug. April 2017 mindful 67 relationships