By: Anne Parker, Miraval's Wellness Counselor
Love is being present.
That is how Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and writer on mindfulness, defines love. A simple yet powerful sentiment.
The way to connect to those you love is by being present – with the other person as well as yourself. Being present means fully engaging in what is being shared between you in that moment – truly paying attention to the thoughts, feelings, and actions you are sharing now. This may sound obvious and straightforward, and it is. However, think about how you and your beloved interact during the course of a typical day. How much are you truly present with each other? How often is your communication “on the fly” or happening while “multitasking”? How often, while listening to the other speak, are you interpreting what they are saying into what you think they really mean? And then, when you respond, you are responding to what you’ve decided they meant instead of what they said?
In our busy lives we often miss or pass by those little but profound opportunities to connect with our loved one. Because we love them and they love us, we just believe that the love is there without continuing to nourish it. We let other demands take our attention and we forget to nurture the love and sharing that any relationship needs for connection and love to flourish.
John Gottman, a noted researcher on relationships, says that we all make bids for emotional connection with our loved one. These bids for connection can take many forms – a look, a gesture, a touch, a question or comment – any expression of the desire to connect. He has categorized how we respond to these bids in three ways:
- Turning toward – a positive response to a bid; giving attention and presence.
- Turning away – a neutral response to a bid; ignoring or staying preoccupied.
- Turning against – a negative response to a bid; being belligerent or argumentative.
People that habitually “turn toward” develop stable, loving, mutually respectful, and long-lasting relationships. They are able to be affectionate, stay interested in each other, foster intimacy, and develop emotional connections that are resilient in the face of stresses and problem solving. I say that turning toward is presence in action, the essence of love.
The destructiveness of “turning against” is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Turning against creates hostility and defensiveness. It creates an atmosphere of negativity and distrust that is clearly damaging to relationships. However, in Gottman’s research, it turns out that habitually “turning away” is the most destructive to a relationship! When bids are turned away, not attended to, bidding stops. When bidding stops distance grows, connection is not nourished and is lost. Turning away means presence is minimal to non-existent and the relationship is not nourished or sustained.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, pay attention to presence and turning toward! Make it a playful game with your beloved and see how many times and in how many different ways you can turn toward each other, give each other your engaged presence. Even the little positive responses – a glance, a touch, humor, empathy, showing interest, saying thank you – add up over time and help form a positive foundation from which the love in your relationship can thrive and flourish.
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