What's the best present that you can give to your partner?
It isn’t chocolates, roses or even diamonds, but it’s the gift of awareness and presence.
Let me explain.
So many of us have lost touch with not only our partners, but ourselves. The world is so fast paced, technology is incredible, and we’re all hooked into our machines and phones. It’s really easy to forget about what’s going on within us – how we feel at a very basic level. We often go through the world on autopilot and unaware, just trying to get through to the next day.
Our culture encourages this sort of detachment. There is so much to keep up with and be distracted by, it is hard to get a handle on what’s going on within. Alternatively, we may ruminate and feel stuck on what’s going on within, whether we’re depressed or anxious or stuck with some kind of problem that we can’t solve.
Either way, it’s like we operate with blindfolds on, and lose touch with our very essence.
To be able to take a step back from everything and just notice what’s going on within, and be present with yourself and/or your partner is truly a gift.
Dan Siegel, MD, a renowned expert in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, talks about this a lot when describing his concept of mindsight: ”our human capacity to perceive the mind of ourselves and others.” When we’re not able to do this – observe ourselves or our partners, essentially – we can get lost.
When we are out of sync with ourselves and operate without awareness, we are setting ourselves up for trouble.
Couples come see me who are out of touch with each other, but what’s striking is how out of touch they are with themselves. No one likes feeling crappy, so we naturally protect ourselves against really raw & painful emotions by tricking ourselves into experiencing other, seemingly safer emotions. These secondary reactionary emotions may still be painful, but they’re a bit safer. Unfortunately, they keep us from ourselves and how we truly feel underneath.
For example, when someone at a very primal level is feeling pure terror that her partner just doesn’t care, she may have zero awareness of this underlying fear. Instead, she may just be angry all the time. People struggling with their relationships often tend to stay at this “upstairs level” of experience, without knowing what’s really going on inside of them. This gets them into trouble with their partners and with themselves. Expressing anger all of the time, when really underneath you are feeling scared that your partner doesn’t care, will likely push your partner away even more.
To be able to just notice that feeling of terror – and not get lost in it – is a skill, but one worth honing. It is basic “mindfulness,” which Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “paying attention in a particular way.”