I have a family member I dearly love who is, well, very difficult to talk to.
When we talk, it’s stilted. Tense. Heartbreaking.
Everything I have tried has made it worse. I strategize and plan. I try to be closer or I try to put distance between us. I stick to safe topics or dive into the divisive ones. No matter what I do, it all falls apart until eventually, I just don’t want to talk.
Why is it so hard to talk to someone I love?
Mindfulness has given me many tools to help out. For example, I bring acute awareness into our conversations. I notice my tight jaw and shallow breath. I’m aware that my thoughts run away with me–that I plan my rebuttals before her sentences are even finished. I end up with a laundry list of what I’m aware of.
But somehow, this isn’t enough. I still get stuck in my head and trapped in the discord.
What is the missing ingredient?
I need to be more present.
How to be Present during Conflict
Feel your Body
When things become difficult, it’s easy to want to get away from the tension. Who wouldn’t?
But ironically, pulling back from the friction, only increases the experience that something is wrong.
Instead, try feeling the tension.
Feel your stomach churning. Feel how your eyes sting when they start to tear up. Experience how your thoughts speed up when anger wells. Even experience how, in the middle of your disagreement, a bird outside your window may distract you.
Feel these experiences with your whole body.
When the conversations become difficult, feel the difficulty.
Everything is OK
Next, take a moment to remember that everything is just fine exactly how it is.
Nauseous or sad. Angry or tense. It’s all OK.
This doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t mean that you want it to stay this way.
No matter what is happening, even in conflict and discomfort, there’s nothing terrible happening.
Breath still goes in. Breath still goes out.
Remind Yourself you Love this person
In the middle of a difficult conversation with a loved one, remind yourself that you love them (even if you don’t feel it in the moment).
Remember a moment you shared together, a fond memory. The person in front of you, this infuriating person who you really want to clobber–that person is the same person you created the memory with.
Remember that your loved one is doing their best and that they want harmony as much as you do.
Be Kind to Yourself
As you remember why you love your challenging loved one, extend the same courtesy to yourself.
Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can too and send yourself some love and compassion.
Let go of Expectations
The last step may be the hardest one of all–let go of your expectations.
Of course, when you love someone, discord between you can be devastating. It can feel like you’re losing the relationship and that things will never heal. It’s human to want things to be better and it’s scary to let go of that hope.
As well meaning that hope is, it can be a burden. Your real relationship is never as good as your fantasy one. The disappointment that follows puts extra tension into an already tender situation.
Ironically, assuming that things will always be bad is equally burdensome. Difficult relationships develop patterns that can seem very entrenched. But closing the possibility for change makes it even harder for that change to come.
So it’s not easy.
Relax your grip on the outcome, even by 1%. Let go of expectations (either good or bad) and you open the door to new possibilities. This isn’t a guarantee that things will get better–only a tool to reduce the burden on your relationship and open the door to change.
This relaxing, this release–it brings a softening to the moment.
If you’re in your body, inviting love for the other person and yourself, and letting go of expectations, you’re fully present in the moment.
And being present in the conflict is already something new.
Whether your interactions become better, worse, or stay the same, you have changed yourself. You’ve interrupted the cycle of tension and discord.
When I was young, I yearned for a spiritual teacher. I wanted to learn about myself, about life, and about living on this planet as an aware, conscious being.
What I didn’t know was that my best spiritual teachers were with me all along–the people I love. And yes, I continue to struggle with them. But the more I am present, the richer my life becomes.
I couldn’t ask for better spiritual lessons than to learn how to be fully present with my loved ones, in all parts of our relationships.
If you have enjoyed the following post, Julia recently completed a three-part series on Meditation Myths we believe you will find interesting. The first part discussed the myths about What is Meditation, the second looked at myths about How to Meditate, and the third part covers myths about the Benefits of Meditation.