If I had to pick the #1 sentence I hear in my work with couples, it is, “I need my partner to be more present.”
Being present refers to a state of mindfulness and awareness in which you are fully engaged and focused on the current moment without being preoccupied with thoughts of the past or worries about the future.
Presence means immersing yourself fully in your current surroundings, experiences, and interactions without distractions from external influences or internal thoughts. In partnership, you are ensuring that your partner experiences being fully seen and heard. Even if triggered, you continue to hold space for your partner rather than allowing defensiveness, shutdown, avoidance, or contempt to take over.
Presence does not mean you ignore what is happening to you. It is quite the opposite. When you are present, you are attuned to your senses, emotions, and thoughts as they happen in real-time.
Being present allows you not to dwell on regrets or anxieties about what may happen in the future. Instead, it will enable you to experience life more fully, engage more deeply with others, and make the most of each moment. So when a partner comes to you with a concern, you can sense your partner’s emotions, you help them feel safe, and you can access your higher self rather than get into an argument over whose wounds are more extensive and deserving of attention.
Connections with others.
Not being present can lead to several unwanted aspects of your well-being and relationships. In essence, to not be present means you are disconnected from yourself, making mindless decisions, and, more often than not, finding yourself in endless arguments with loved ones.
If you’re constantly distracted or mentally elsewhere, you may make hasty decisions, say yes when you want to say no, minimize your loved one’s concerns, and, above all, create unsafe relational dynamics.
When not present in your relationships, you miss important cues, conversations, and opportunities to connect with others. Which leads to misunderstandings and miscommunications, creating a general sense of distance between you and the people you care about.
Presence and mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that activate when we act and observe someone else performing the same action. These neurons play a role in understanding and empathizing with others.
In relationships, mirror neurons contribute to empathy, social bonding, and matching experiences. This enables us to feel our partner’s internal landscape, enhances our ability to connect emotionally, and more fully understand their experience in the moment—-crucial ingredients to help with better communication and stronger connections.
Presence and mirror neurons are interconnected because mirror neurons can facilitate a sense of presence in intimate interactions. When fully present in a conversation or social situation, our mirror neurons are more likely to activate. It enhances our ability to understand and empathize with others as we “mirror” their emotions and actions in our brains.
Being present allows us to pick up on subtle cues, body language, and facial expressions, which are essential for effective communication and building rapport.
In return, mirror neurons play a role in this process by helping us synchronize with the emotions and experiences of those around us, fostering a deeper sense of connection and understanding. So, being present in the moment can amplify the effects of mirror neurons and enhance the quality of our interactions.
Here are some simple ways to help you be more present in the moment when interacting with a loved one:
- Take care of yourself: Take a few deep, conscious breaths. Focus your attention on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body. This helps anchor you to the present moment. You may repeat this as needed through your interaction.
- Limit Distractions: Put away your phone and other devices when you’re engaged in conversation or an activity. Minimize interruptions that take you out of the moment. This will help create a sense of safety and regard.
- Eye Contact + Active Listening: Maintain genuine eye contact during conversations. It signals that you’re actively engaged and listening. Focus on what your loved ones are saying without interrupting or planning your response. Not engaging in eye contact and active listening will guarantee that your partner will feel disregarded which will only escalate the situation.
- Practice Open Body Language + Reflective Responses: Keep your body language open and inviting. This means avoiding crossing your arms or giving your partner your back, as it can signal defensiveness. If this is challenging, repeat step #1.
- Patience + Empathetic Response: Respond to what your loved ones are sharing with empathy and understanding (focus on your heart). Reflect or repeat their words to show that you’re truly absorbing their message. Be mindful not to interrupt. Be patient. Give your loved ones the space they need to express themselves, especially during difficult conversations.
- Stay Curious + Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage meaningful conversations by asking open-ended questions that invite your loved ones to share their thoughts and feelings. Approach interactions with a curious mindset. Ask for clarity with a sense of curiosity not to prove wrong or defensiveness.
- Express Appreciation: Once your partner completed their share and before you start your share, take a moment to express gratitude for your loved one and their share. This does not mean you agree with them. You are letting them know you value their presence in your life, and that what they share is valued and important.
Remember that being present is a skill that takes practice. The goal is to create an environment where your loved ones feel valued, understood, and cherished. Being present in these moments helps foster deeper connections and enriches the quality of your relationships.