Posted by June Atkind, LICSW
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it is hard to ignore the importance of letting our loved ones know how special they are to us. The reminders to buy cards, candy, flowers, reserve a table, or otherwise show that we care are everywhere. Certainly, there are industries that count on significant revenues every February. But do the hearts and flowers in the middle of February result in any residual benefits to our relationships?
Once the candy has been consumed, the roses faded, and the immediate gratification of “feeling special” has left, do we continue to treat our significant others in ways that nourish and enhance our relationships? When we resume “life as usual”, full of lists, challenges, demands, and distractions, the importance of our relationships tends, like the rose petals, to fade and whither. Our attention to significant people and relationships can be difficult to sustain. We can be easily annoyed by minor quirks, miscommunications, or mistakes. We may even use these relationships as safe place to “dump” our anger and frustration, allowing sharp comments or sarcasm to spew out, or even unwittingly goading those whom we care most about into arguments in an effort to jettison the stressors accumulated throughout our busy days.
What would it be like if we were able to remember and prioritize our most significant relationships at exactly those moments when we are most consumed with anger, stress, hunger, and fatigue? Is it possible to pay attention to the important people in our lives even when our “last nerve” has been triggered? How would our relationships – and our own well-being – be strengthened by focusing on the importance of these relationships in the midst of a challenging moment?
Dr. Kelly Wilson, a wise practitioner and teacher of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) observed, “If I were only a good husband when I felt like being a good husband, I’d be a pretty bad husband.” An alternative to allowing the thoughts, feelings, and urges of the moment, which are fleeting relative to the enduring value of our important relationships, is making a commitment to be mindful of our relationships. Mindfulness can be defined as “paying attention, on purpose.” If you have a meditation practice, you may use the breath, a mantra, or a particular object as the focal point for your attention. For the duration of the mediation, we commit to returning to the focal point whenever distractions (including thoughts, feelings, urges, as well as noise and interruptions) take us off course. Mindfulness of relationships is fostered by using our important relationship as the chosen object of focus, committing to returning our attention to the wellbeing and nurturing of the relationship when distractions take us off course.
I like to think of mindfulness of relationships as “the gift that keeps on giving.” It also certainly is in keeping with the value of “think global, act local.” When Valentine’s Day has come and gone, making a commitment to mindfulness throughout the year, each and every day, may result in a relationship that is even more celebration-worthy when February 14th rolls around next year.