Mastering Love and Relationships - Part 3: Stay in the Present


In Short:

"Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be."
Sonia Ricotti

Research has shown that minds focused on the present moment tend to be both happier and calmer. Often in relationships we suffer for two reasons: we bring in the past and we project into the future.

We bring in the past. Maybe your last partner wasn't trustworthy, so you now interpret your new partner's behavior as untrustworthy. Maybe a former partner broke your heart, so you now show up as guarded, sabotaging any new relationship for fear of being hurt.

Perhaps, the past you bring with you isn't from a former lover, but from your childhood - maybe your father suddenly left without notice, and now you respond to your current partner's (otherwise neutral) behavior with great insecurity.

The truth is we bring all kinds of crazy crap into our romantic relationships - not intentionally of course - but past hurts leave a mark, especially if we haven't fully processed them or released the energy we carry from them. And the baggage of past hurts negatively impacts our relationships.

We project into the future. At times we also focus too much on the "inevitable" future the relationship holds. Perhaps it's only been a few weeks, yet we're already planning our wedding vows. Or on the other end of that spectrum - we live in constant fear that this new object of our affection will eventually hurt and abandon us when their behavior indicates no such thing.

Either projection doesn't serve us because we're living with and reacting to something that hasn't actually happened and may never happen.

Fearing a partner will break your heart can easily cause you to misinterpret your partner's behavior. A canceled date is no longer just a canceled date for a million other possible reasons; instead it's "proof" that your partner is uninterested or unreliable.

This fear can shape your actions as well, causing anything from guardedness to over-giving to stage 5 clinging. The result: you show up in ways that produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of the above behaviors are more likely to drive a partner away than keep them for the long haul.

On the other hand, envisioning yourself marrying a person right away may cause you to overlook certain red flags or incompatibilities. My friend Francois put it well when he said "I was so excited by the 'icing' some of my girlfriends presented at the beginning that I completely ignored the fact that there was no 'cake" (said charmingly with a French accent, of course). For the definition of Cake, see Part 4: Choose Mindfully.

The Mindful Approach:

Be aware of what is true right now in this moment...without bringing in the past or projecting into the future.

Leave out the past. It's crucial - and I can't say this enough - to show up with fresh eyes in a new relationship. It's critical for the health of your relationship to see the person actually in front of you - rather than bringing in the shadow of a parent, former lover, or your own insecurities. When your partner does something that creates negative energy for you, write it down. Then try to assess whether you might be bringing energy from the past and whether this behavior feels consistent with other experiences with this person.

Try not to get ahead of yourself. Enjoy the time you're spending with your date or your partner in the moment. The only question you really need to ask yourself is "Do I want to keep spending time with this person?"

My friend Courtney was the three-date wonder - she'd date these great guys and have all this chemistry with them - and then things would just end out of nowhere (sometimes by her choice and sometimes by theirs). She found dating very frustrating.

Now she's happy and in love with Alex, an amazing guy she's been dating for almost a year. Over brunch a number of months ago, I asked her what was different about Alex. She answered that Alex is wonderful, of course, but for the first time she stopped trying to assess if he could be her husband. She just enjoyed each date in the moment and the only question she asked herself was "Do I want to keep spending time with him?" She said, "We had so much fun together, and I always felt so happy and calm when I was with him, so the answer to that question was easy...and here we are!"

The same is true when you're already in a relationship. Rather than worrying about breaking up or getting divorced in the future when something isn't working for you - be present and ask yourself what you can do right now in this moment to improve the relationship. Perhaps it's being curious, discussing what's coming up for you, or redesigning the relationship together, just as Adam and Maya might have done.

The Takeaway:

Let there only be two people in your relationship - no parents, former lovers, or future spouses allowed. By staying present, your relationship has the ability to unfold naturally without having to do anything to force or control it.

Last but not least, who is the best partner for us and how can we be that person ourselves? We explore this in the final post: