Pay Attention, for Passion’s Sake

Paying attention predicts relationship success.

Paying attention predicts relationship success.

Paying attention predicts relationship success.

I watch the couple on my couch and smile. Joleen tilts her head and nods thoughtfully as Steven speaks. She reaches out with a finger and touches his inner wrist, cuing him that she’d like to reply. I am watching a different version of the pair who first came to me in such distress, on the verge of divorce. Their relationship has evolved from a miserable job to an enjoyable hobby. They are better able to spot the mind demons and to apply the antidotes. 

They practice compassionate communication—calling a time-out when they are floodedlistening deeply, and validating each other. And this week they’ve started working with their passion plan. All this effort put into the hobby of loving mindfully is paying off. They are pleased to see each other at the end of the day; some thrill energy has returned. They are connecting in an intimate way again; they are curious and kind, like the friends they used to be. The couples therapy has clearly been helpful.

But there is one other key thing that has helped improve how they act and speak with each other. They meditate. Sometimes they meditate together; sometimes separately. But they have each committed to what I call a “daily-ish” mindfulness practice—they hit the cushion a minimum of four or five times a week for thirty minutes. As I watch them on my couch, the main thing that has changed is that they are paying attention.

To be a great lover, you must pay attention and notice your partner trying to connect with you. It takes presence to notice your partner glancing your way during a dinner party. According to John Gottman, master of marriage research, successful couples are mindful of bids for connection and pay attention to them. These bids might be a look, a question, or an affectionate stroke on the cheek, anything that says, “Hey, I want to be connected with you.”

Most bids happen in simple, mundane ways, and if you are mindless, you miss the overture. Gottman’s studies indicate that couples on the road to divorce ignore their spouse’s bids for connection 50 to 80 percent of the time, while those in happy marriages catch most of these emotional cues and respond kindly. So, paying attention predicts relationship success.

Couples who notice more moments of connection report more feelings of love and contentment. What’s more, connection and intimacy buffer against emotional burnout. If you are not paying attention, you won’t notice your distressed partner reaching out with a sigh or a question, and you sure can’t respond to the bids you miss. And it turns out these failed intimacies are as harmful as active rejection—simply not acknowledging your mate hurts as much as a harsh word.

One of my clients calls being unnoticed by his wife “death by a thousand cuts.” A bid for attention is a request, and paying attention so you can catch and respond to the bid is a gift given with an open heart.

This is one-way meditation makes you a better partner. If you practice mindfulness, you become more aware. You learn to really notice what each breath feels like and to discern subtle changes in your mind and body.

You experience what is actually happening, rather than escaping into distraction. When your mind does lose attention, you practice refocusing on the present. And off the meditation cushion, in your life and particularly in your relationship, meditation strengthens your ability to slow down so you can show up—to look with fresh eyes, to listen with fresh ears, to develop your partner radar so you regularly notice your partner reaching out, and to respond with kindness and interest.

With practice, you can move from mindless and preoccupied to actively seeing your mate and their needs, just like Steven and Joleen did. And this matters.

Mindful couples are happy couples. The simple, mundane moments of connection build intimacy and happiness. Without mindful awareness, the intimacy side of your triangle will grow weak, and passion will languish. Whether in thought, word, or deed, mindfulness is the key to intimacy, thrill, and sensuality. So, pay attention, for passion’s sake.

Mindful Skill: Daily Mindful Loving Meditation

For twenty minutes each morning (or at any time), practice the following meditation on mindful loving.

  1. State an aspiration. For example, “Today, may I think, speak, and act toward my beloved with as much generosity, kindness, and compassion as I am able.”
  2. Bring your attention to your feet. Ground yourself in the body. Slowly scan your body from feet to head, connecting with it and gently observing it.
  3. Bring your attention to your breath. Invite the mind to settle. Using the breath as the meditation object, practice mindfulness for approximately five minutes. If the mind wanders, gently refocus on the breath.
  4. Slowly bring your attention to the day ahead. Scan through the day to come: your plans, obligations, intentions. Where does your love relationship fit into your day today? Select one or two positive, wholesome love priorities. Perhaps decide to skip your favorite TV show so you can make your mate a lovely meal. Don’t overthink it—trust whatever arises and feels like a loving relationship priority for the day to come.
  5. Mentally review your passion plan and recommit to your daily commitments.
  6. Place your palm on your heart and take three breaths into and out from your heart center. Bring to mind three things you appreciate about your beloved.
  7. Allow all that to fade away and take one more mindful breath.
  8. Repeat your aspiration.
  9. Create a mindful loving day, regardless of circumstances.

Click here for a guided version of this practice and further teachings.

Excerpted from Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy. Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2018 Cheryl Fraser.

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Sharp, frank and fearless, that’s Buddhist sex therapist, psychologist, author, and speaker Dr. Cheryl Fraser. With a rare combination of academic credibility, humor, straight talk, and life-changing advice, she has helped thousands of couples jumpstart their love life and create passion that lasts a lifetime.  She has taught for Tony Robbins and Jack Canfield, appeared on television and podcasts, and writes about love and sex for magazines. Dr. Cheryl’s online immersion program for couples Become Passion brings her work to your own living room. Learn more and get on the waitlist. Listen to her podcast Sex, Love & Elephants here. Her book Buddha’s Bedroom: The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion and Lifelong Intimacy is available now. For more information or to sign up for weekly LoveBytes, visit her website and check out her videos on YouTube.