15 tips for a blissful relationship
Margie Ulbrick, family lawyer, relationship counsellor, psychotherapist and co-author of a new book on mindful relationships talks to our reporter about strategies to develop a more compassionate, friendly relationship with ourselves and others
1 How doI treat myself?
We tend to internalise a critical approach to ourselves, judging ourselves harshly as a result, says Ulbrick, who explains that how we treat ourselves can very often determine how we treat others. "An attitude of mindfulness encourages us to be more kind and compassionate to ourselves," she explains.
Set an intention you aspire to in your relationship with yourself and others, she advises; for example, to be more patient or to listen more attentively.
2 Try the two-step approach, non-judgemental and curious
Being non-judgemental toward ourselves helps us deal better with others, explains Ulbrick. Adopting such an approach towards ourselves helps release us from the tendency to judge others, she says. However, at the same time, she advises, adopt a curious approach to what might be going on for somebody else, which might make them behave in a particular way.
"Being less judgemental and more curious about someone's motivations, this makes us more open to understanding their situation," she explains.
It brings a new capacity to look with fresh eyes at a situation and to deepen our awareness of what might be behind it. "In any moment where we are genuinely curious, we can't at the same time be resisting or judging what we are experiencing."
3 Be mindful and react less
The more we practice being mindful, the less reactive we tend to be.
"Practising mindfulness makes us calmer and less reactive, and therefore less prone to taking offence, to anger or to defensiveness," says Ulbrick, who explains that little daily rituals remind us to turn the tide around away from busyness, stress and lack of presence towards increased capacity to be present.
Practise being mindful in daily life - eating, showering, cooking, gardening or walking, she advises. Try using an app such as Smiling Mind or Headspace to help with meditation.
4 Fight Fair
In a situation of conflict, talk about 'what I feel' rather than 'what you did'. Avoid name-calling, swearing, blaming, stonewalling, or revisiting past fights. Avoid attacking, defensiveness, stonewalling, or criticism.
Keep the discussion to the single issue at hand. This makes it safer to deal with conflict - if you bring up past fights, says Ulbrick, the argument will go around in circles.
"Mindfulness gives you more choice. It gives you the choice to take a breath, to pause and to take a more considered approach to conflict."
5 Resolution and repair
It's very important to learn to take responsibility and to apologise: "Be prepared to apologise and apologise well," Ulbrick advises. "Repair quickly. Let go of things in order to care for the bond and the connectivity in a relationship. There is a skill to offering a decent apology. Take responsibility."
And remember, she says: "The more mindful we become, the more able we are to see other peoples' perspective."
6 Turn towards rather than away from
"If you have someone who is very hurt and someone else who is not apologising, rather than ignoring the problem or going on as if nothing has happened, make the effort to connect," says Ulbrick. "Make contact with the person rather than going on with your everyday life as if the person you have hurt is not there."
As a general rule she says, go 'towards' people in a relationship. "Be more friendly, make more contact."
7 Listen, listen, listen
"Listen for the meaning underneath," when you are speaking with somebody, Ulbrick counsels. "Look deeply," she advises.
Be present to other people. "Often we don't listen enough to other people - maybe we're listening to the words, but not to the message. Maybe we're already thinking about how we're going to respond, defend yourself and not listening - at the heart of a lot of relationship problems is that we are all longing for someone to hear us."
8 Be empathetic
"Seek first to understand and then to be understood," Ulbrick advises. Be "stewards" of each other's brains, she says.
"Understand where the other person is coming from. Know their triggers and don't pull them. If you can, get to know how to soothe the triggers," she advises.
This might be stepping back, a pat on the shoulder, or simply giving the other person some space.
9 Recognise boundaries
Don't offer advice or solutions. "Respect that your partner has their own autonomy."
Avoid crossovers, she suggests. That means no overstepping the mark or telling your partner what to do, think or feel. "You overstep boundaries by being dominating or bossy, or by telling someone what they should do or think."
10 Have Respect
Respect is the foundation of all relationships, says Ulbrick. "If you don't have respect for another person, the relationship is immediately dysfunctional.
"Respect is the premise upon which all good relationships are based. Without it you cannot interact positively or safely with others and attitudes of entitlement and even contempt towards others can prevail."
So make respect a priority - respect for yourself and respect for others.
11 Show integrity
Be a person of your word and honour the agreements you make.
"If you make a promise, keep it," advises Ulbrick. "If you don't keep it, you let other people down and disappoint people."
While there is a certain amount of flexibility in most relationships, she says, doing the opposite to what you promise damages the sense of trust in the relationship.
12 Cultivate a sense of humour
See the humour in your own foibles. Don't take things personally. If someone continually does something that annoys you - perhaps they may continually leave the toilet seat up, the lid off the toothpaste or their dirty dishes in the sink - even though you may have repeatedly indicated that you don't like this habit and requested them not to do it, try not to take these little irritations too seriously.
"Take the humorous approach," she advises.
Take regular, daily doses of it. Make a point of looking at other people with fresh eyes.
"This applies to all sorts of relationships," she says. "When we become used to looking for and acknowledging the good in a person, their behaviour can improve.
"If we look for the bad and find the bad, we can get more and more of it. Try looking at a person with fresh eyes and seeing the good they do. People often feel unappreciated in relationships of all kinds."
14 Pay attention to comings and goings
These are times that signify that we really matter to each other. Create rituals around arrivals and departures such as little gestures - a hug, a kiss, waving them off from the front door - which signify that another person matters, and that you are acknowledging their importance in your life.
15 Have each other's backs
Protect the bond and connection within your relationships, and be aware of how you talk about each other to other people, advises Ulbrick.
"There are many ways to betray each other. Our words and thoughts have power as well as our behaviour. Words and thoughts can form our attitudes," she warns, adding that they can change them too.
* 'Mindful Relationships; Creating Genuine Connection With Ourselves and Others' by Dr Richard Chambers and Margie Ulbrick, by Exisle Publishing, is out now, €11.70
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