Three Things For Practicing Presence In Our Relationships

Lately, I’ve been trying to practice being in the present moment. I’m learning to accept and be present with both the comfortable and uncomfortable things in my life. This week, I discovered the importance of not only practicing this with myself, but also in my relationships with other people as well.

Here’s what happened.

My dear sister called and was very upset about something happening in her life. I wanted to soothe her and make the pain go away. My mind was racing trying to think of what to say and how to help and I spouted out a few suggestions.

And then she said, “I don’t need you to fix this. I just need you to listen.” 

I felt a shift in myself and I paused. She was asking me to be present and to simply sit with her in this discomfort. I must admit, at first I could feel my mind resisting a bit. Sitting in discomfort isn’t easy for me to do. But as I paused, I began to feel a deeper connection to her and what she was experiencing.

Being present with someone takes our relationship with them to a whole new level. It increases our understanding of another which creates a stronger bond. 

In order to be present in our relationships, we need to practice three things:

Listening with our Hearts

In order to be present in a relationship, we must let someone express their anger, sadness or whatever other emotions they may be feeling. When we’re listening to someone who’s having strong emotions, it’s crucial for us to empathize and validate their feelings. This requires listening with our hearts and not our minds.

This can be hard to do because our minds often kick in first and want to fix things and make the hard stuff go away. Our minds want to solve the problem or tell someone to look on the bright side. But when someone is experiencing strong emotions, this isn’t helpful.

Listening with our heart puts us in a place of empathy which creates connection. Listening and validating become the actions we take. This comes in the form of saying things like, “What you are dealing with right now is really hard. I can see how much it hurts.” 

This is not the time for solutions. The time for that comes after someone has felt what they need to feel and know they’ve been heard. This will then empower them to find solutions or ask for help if needed.

Being Curious

Sometimes people say things that are hard to hear. Sometimes they say things we don’t agree with or don’t like. In order to be present when this happens in a relationship, we need to be curious. This means pausing to respond thoughtfully and not making a knee-jerk reaction. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings happen when we fail to stay curious and ask for clarification. Disconnection will soon follow.

Being curious allows us to ask questions to better understand another person and keeps us from making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. My dad has a great way to start this process with the inquiry, “Please help me understand what you mean.”

I know for me, oftentimes something will sound good in my head, but when it comes out of my mouth, the words are jumbled and don’t sound nearly as good as I’d hoped. I’ve often felt, as Jim Croce sings, “Every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong.” This happens especially when I’m hurt or when there’s something that may be hard for me to say or difficult for someone to hear. Curiosity puts us in a place to ask questions that get to the heart of what someone else is trying to say. 

Giving and Receiving

As Fr. Richard Rohr says, Presence is always reciprocal, or it is not presence at all”. All of us have experienced times when presence wasn’t reciprocal. We’ve had times when we’re with someone, but their attention is elsewhere. Someone may be there physically, but mentally and emotionally they aren’t. I’ve been on both sides of this, so I know the feeling of both trying to connect with someone who isn’t all there and being checked out myself. 

In the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, there’s a beautiful passage about learning the art of giving and receiving and how in a healthy relationship, the giving and receiving become one. When presence is reciprocal, there will be a back and forth flow in the relationship. There may be times when one may need to give more and times where one may need to receive more. But over time, this will even out. For this flow to be reciprocal, both people need to be invested in being present with each other.

Being present in a relationship is about meeting someone where they are at right now.

It’s about hearing what someone else is trying to say. 

It’s about being there for each other and having each other’s back.

This may sound like work, and it is! But in doing so, we will be rewarded with healthier, more meaningful relationships. Being present leads to more peace and harmony as well. And ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?

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