The concept of meditation can be intimidating. People often associate the practice with clearing the mind entirely—more on that later—but the mindfulness practice is actually about settling the mind, observing thoughts, and being present.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise in which someone uses techniques like mindfulness to focus the mind, train attention, heighten awareness, and achieve mental clarity and calm.
"Meditation gives you a lot more space to think," says Toby Maguire, wellness manager at the luxury resort Amanyara in Turks & Caicos. "When your mind is calm, you suddenly realize that a lot of the things that we're worrying about are completely unnecessary." He explains that being present is immensely helpful not only for individuals' mental health but also for the strength of long-term partnerships.
Meet the Expert
Toby Maguire is the resident wellness manager at Amanyara, a luxury resort in Turks & Caicos. Maguire has over a decade of experience with professional stress management, breath work, meditation, and Chinese medicine.
Below, Maguire explains the steps couples can take to improve communication and effectively navigate arguments—and how practicing meditation fits in.
Understand How to Find Mental Clarity
Step one of understanding how meditation can help a partnership? Understanding what it is—and understanding what it isn't. One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation, according to Maguire, is that people tend to think it means you must "clear your mind." But that's not really the case. He explains that most people think that meditation requires you to stop your mind from thinking—a concept that can lead to a lot of frustration. "You cannot stop your mind from thinking," he says. "[Meditation] is just calming the mind and observing your thoughts."
Learn to Listen
One thing that Maguire teaches in his wellness courses is how to win an argument. But this may not mean what you think it does. "If you get in an argument or you're having a clash, what happens is that egos get involved," Maguire says. "It becomes 'I'm right, you're wrong.' When somebody is angry, they think 'defend defend defend' and they can not think rationally because the blood is going to a different part of the brain. So when you're calm, you start to think with your frontal lobe and you can listen." That—listening—is the key to winning. "You have to work together to solve the problem—but if egos are involved, all you'll do is have that clash and the problem won't get solved." Once couples can set their egos aside and truly listen to each other, the arguments will feel much more like conversations.
Calm Down Before Communicating
"If you're having an argument with somebody, the first thing you have to do is get them to calm down. Otherwise, it doesn't matter what you say, it will just ricochet back to you," Maguire explains. "Listen to them, let them shout, let them get it out of their system." Then—and only then—can you calmly and rationally communicate. Of course, this is easier said than done, and many couples are familiar with the feeling of escalation during an argument. But using meditation practice as a tool to calm the mind and learn to listen will also aid in practicing patience.
Leave Baggage in the Past
When people bring baggage from the past into the present moment, arguments almost always will escalate and become more hostile. "Bringing all of the histories into the argument will not solve [anything]," says Maguire. "It just makes the problem bigger." And it can lead to grudges and contempt.
He explains that when couples start to meditate (both individually and together), they're calmer, they can be more rational, and rather than losing their temper and reacting, they will find the space between watching the emotion arise and noticing that they're feeling angry. Once you're aware of these feelings, you can think before reacting.
Lead by Example
It's entirely possible that within a relationship, one partner feels willing to learn these tools around meditation and mental calmness, while the other partner is unwilling to do this kind of work. "You can't push people or force people into anything," says Maguire. When you put pressure on someone to do something, they'll likely resist more. "I always tell people to lead by example." It may take patience (which meditation will help with!), but over time, as the more resistant partner notices the other partner remaining calm and listening, that first partner will follow suit. "When they can see that result, that's when they're more likely to become interested in it."