The power of being present in a relationship
When you are not full of projections of how things should or could be, you are not full of thoughts about the past or the future, then you end up occupying the present. This act of being present brings with it many wonders. It leads to new and exciting experiences. It imbues shared experiences with a quality of creativity and co-creativity. Presence is a matter of the degree to which you focus on the events in front of you. Being present is responding to what is really happening, rather than reacting based on your previous experiences or future concerns. When you are present, you are not busy trying to create a specific future outcome.
Being present is not always the most desirable state. Sometimes the future needs attention too, so you try to control the world so that your imagined future comes true. There are times when that’s appropriate, but often it’s like ordering the next meal while you’re eating the current one.
Being fully present in a relationship has a transformative effect. By giving your full attention to what is present, you can see your partner more clearly and hear what they are saying more clearly. By giving up the need to control the future, by definition you also give up attempts to control the other person. By not caring about the past or the future, you deny yourself a lot of potential conflict. “You didn’t call me” or “I want a white wedding” fade out. Almost always, dealing with the present is the way to go. Mentally yelling “No, I don’t want that spilled milk in my life” doesn’t help. You will have to clean it at some point before you can continue.
An impediment to being fully present is when there are aspects of your partner that bother you. The first step in dealing with this is with language. By speaking in the present tense, the focus remains on what is present, rather than inviting conflict about the past or the future. Also, speak from the “I”, not from the “you”. Say “I feel embarrassed when you complain about service” instead of “You shouldn’t talk to the waiter like that.” The statement “I feel…” is personal and is about the present; “You should…” is an attempt to control the other person. By removing criticism from the conversation, you open up space for more openness and honesty from your partner, and by expressing your feelings, you create a situation where your partner may change as a result of your knowledge of your reactions.
The second step is to observe your own reactions. Do they arise from force of habit?: “I have always put the handles of cutlery in the dishwasher.” What is the source of your irritation? Many times it is simply an assumption of how things should be. Sometimes it’s an issue like honesty, financial behavior, or the desire to have children that is so basic to who you are that you can’t accept it. But if it’s not a deal breaker, take a hard look inside yourself for your reaction and what’s behind it. In the end, you cannot change your partner; you can only change yourself.
Another aspect of being present is the experience of novelty it brings. Nothing is ever the same, and it is very mysterious and counterintuitive. One would think that settling down to watch a movie or walk in the park would become monotonous due to familiarity. However, they don’t. They are inherently different: there is no such thing as Groundhog Day. Another way of saying this is that when you are not limited by your past, it gives you an extraordinary sense of potential and growth. Change is not suppressed in favor of what has been, nor is it rejected for fear of what might happen. The result is a feeling that you always have more to do and more to explore.
Practicing presence adds great richness to your life; problems disappear and you experience a wonderful sense of joy. The power of this practice within a relationship has no limits.