With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a great time to reflect on how you are doing with loving and feeling in love with your partner (if you have one!). Let’s face it, with multiple crises including a pandemic going on in our country right now, many of us are finding ourselves at the end of our rope and having difficulty finding emotional intimacy and connection in even the most solid relationships. So in the interest of helping out those of you who might not be feeling so “twitterpated” (go back and watch Bambi if you need a reference here – a great Valentine’s Day date night :), I offer you a visualization exercise that aims to ignite affectionate feelings for your partner. You may find this exercise to be a powerful antidote to the inevitable challenges and conflicts that arise during COVID where the usual fun and stress reducing activities are not available.
This exercise is based on my extensive experience teaching and writing about meditation for more than a decade. A couple of great resources of mine include a blog that I wrote on this very topic over several years at Sonima.com, meditations I created with my former Stanford colleagues from soundcloud, or if you are into academic books or a mental health professional, the book I co-edited with Victor G. Carrión M.D., Applied Mindfulness: Approaches in Mental Health for Children and Adolescents is a great overview of mindfulness strategies in youth mental health. Many of my patients will be celebrating “St. Cupid’s Day” this year with some little ones in the mix, and the exercises in our book can give you some key ways to parent while partnering with an eye toward romance! This exercise also incorporates incredibly valuable research-based concepts from The Gottman Institute that I put to work everyday in couples therapy.
To reiterate, the purpose of this visualization is to work towards creating a positive affective state in which you can be more present and affectionate towards your partner and use these emotions as a buffer against stress when it arises. Therefore, this practice invites you to “fall awake” and reattune to loving feelings for your partner. Falling awake involves entering into the present moment through mindfulness, which is an ancient Buddhist and Yoga-based concept and practice focused on a non-judgmental and compassionate, present-moment awareness. You will create this affective state by calling to mind positive past experiences and memories you have shared with your partner. You may also find it helpful to reflect on the traits and characteristics that caused you to fall deeply in love with your partner. For instance, questions you may ponder include:
- Do you remember the first time you saw your partner?
- What were they wearing? What was your first date like?
- What is an amazing experience you shared together?
- What are some of your favorite physical traits of your partner?
Ok, so let’s prepare to give this practice a try. You will need some dedicated alone time, at least 10 minutes where you can quiet your mind down and observe your breathing to enter into a relaxed state. When you feel pleasantly relaxed, invite into your awareness an image, memory, or thought of a happy experience or phase in your relationship. You may have more than one thing come to mind and that is ok.
Be curious about what arises. Involve your full experience in this practice. This means to attend to your mind, body, emotions, and how being with your partner may connect you to a sense of life meaning, purpose or in touch with something beautiful, sacred, or spiritual. It is important to know that even neutral, ambivalent, or negative emotions can arise, and that is OK also. Do your best to acknowledge these and continue to call in joyous moments. It is a powerful practice to be able to deliberately replace negative thoughts with their opposite positive ones without wishing any ill toward the negative, simply acknowledge them, and let them pass to make space for the positive. That is the focus of this practice.
As you are resting in awareness in this practice, deepen your experience by noticing who, if anyone, is in this image, or is it just you and your partner? Where are you? What time is it, or what season of the year is it? What is the weather like in this place, the temperature? What are you doing? What is your felt, emotional sense of this experience? Pause here. Let all these dimensions enter your consciousness.
When you have this fully formed, practice relaxed breathing, and let all the positive and good feelings imprint upon you. Spend as much time here as feels natural for you.
OK seriously though – quit reading this for a few minutes, close your eyes, and visualize!
When you are ready, gently come back from this experience while maintaining the positive feelings and experiences you generated.
You may find it beneficial to spend a few moments journaling about your experience or writing down your reflections in a confidential journal.
I encourage you to practice this exercise more than once. It is not unexpected to get different results each time that may range from “well, nothing happened at all!” to deep, meaningful insights that can increase compassion and affection for your partner.
The next phase of this practice is to put it to action by intentionally calling forth the affectionate feelings you cultivated in the visualization to create warmth, gratitude, love, and compassion in the present moment with your partner. Try doing this visualization right before you see your partner next. I recommend setting a daily reminder on your phone to include this practice. Notice if it makes a difference! An effective way to put this practice into action is to draw upon these feelings to increase your displays of affection for your partner by offering them a loving mindful kiss as part of your daily routine 😉 Dr. Gottman calls this the “six second kiss.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this article! I hope you have a mindful and blissfully awake upcoming Valentine’s Day!
John Rettger, PhD
The Center for Men’s Excellence