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How to Be More Present in Relationships

Giving your full presence to another is one of the best gifts you can give.

Key points

  • Knowing your relationship values can help motivate you to show up more fully in relationships. 
  • Identify when mindfulness matters. When it comes to relationships, you can’t be mindful all of the time.
  • Practicing deep validation is one of the most powerful ways to be present with someone.

When I reflect on the meaningful moments of my day, they are often the times where I was fully present with people—the moments when a client shared her vulnerability, pausing to check in with my neighbor, or reading with my sons before bed. Being present makes life more fulfilling so it’s only natural that we should learn how to be more present in relationships

Giving your full attention, your full presence, to another person is one of the best gifts you can give. There is plenty of research backing this up:

The First Step: What Are Your Relationship Values?

Knowing your relationship values can help motivate you to show up more fully in relationships. Take a moment to reflect on (or journal about) these values-based questions.

  • Which relationships are the most meaningful to you?
  • How do you act when you are at your best in these important relationships?
  • How would you like to show up more fully in your important relationships?
  • How would being present impact these relationships?

The Second Step: Know When It Matters

When it comes to relationships you can’t be mindful all of the time.

It’s normal to multitask or be distracted in day-to-day encounters with others. For example, I clean up the house while chatting on the phone with a friend, or my mind wanders to work when my partner is talking about the car getting repaired. But when I am distracted or stuck in my own head when a client or friend is bidding for connection, we both miss out.

We can make an effort to be mindful when it matters.

Use this checklist to know when it matters to pause and get present:

  • Is someone sharing something important to them?
  • Is this a moment of crisis?
  • Is a partner, child, or co-worker bidding for your attention?
  • Is someone you care about hurting?
  • Is this a moment of sweetness you want to savor?

The Last Step: Practice Deep Validation

Validation is one of the most powerful ways to be present with someone. When you practice validation, you show that you are present, that you care, and that you want to understand their experience. Try these six steps to deep validation that I’ve adapted from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan.

  1. Be Here — Be alert, awake and pay attention to the person you are with. Listen to what they are saying. Get out of your head and into the moment.
  2. Reflect Accurately — Paraphrase and repeat back what you are hearing from the person you are with. Try using sentence starters like: "That sounds…" "You seem…" and "This seems like…"
  3. Take Perspective — Get behind the other person’s eyes. What is it like to be them right now? What do their body language and non-verbal communication tell you about how they are feeling?
  4. Practice Understanding — Take into account the person’s context, history, and situation. Validate their experience by showing that it’s understandable. Try using statements like: "It’s understandable you feel this way given…." and "It makes sense that…"
  5. Express Common Humanity — Relay to the person that they are having a normal human experience. Relate to their experience as a human who has also felt similarly. Try reflecting this by saying: "Many people feel this way sometimes..." and "You are not alone in feeling or thinking..."
  6. Be Honest and Genuine — Be vulnerable and human in your response. Share your authentic reaction. Be “radically genuine,” as Marsha Linehan would say.
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