How to Practice Non-Attachment in Your Relationships

“You only lose what you cling to.” – Buddha

When it comes to relationships, what does it mean to be “clingy”?  I suppose one clear sign is that your partner is asking for space.  A few other signs:

  • You text them constantly.
  • You check your phone constantly to see if they have contacted you.
  • You get nervous or angry when they don’t respond.
  • You want to be together all the time.
  • You check up on their social media.
  • You get jealous when they spend time with friends or pursuing other hobbies without you.
  • You don’t trust them completely.

Does any of this sound familiar? If yes, this might mean you are overly attached.  This can be due to feelings of insecurity, self-doubt or anxiety about the future.  In other words, you have become too tightly attached to how you want things to be versus relaxing and accepting whatever might happen.  Attachment can lead to feelings of worry and anxiety and may prevent you from enjoying your relationship now.

Ok, you say.  I get it.  I am attached to my partner or potential partner and am worried I may drive them away.  I’m not fully enjoying my relationship because I’m so worried it might end.  Come to think about it, you also may be attaching to other areas of your life, perhaps your job, that next pay increase, that new home you’re saving to buy.  These areas also are causing you worry and anxiety.  So, what can you do?

I’m going to start with an analogy.  Let’s say you inhale.  Then you hold your breath.  You think, what if I exhale and then another breath never comes?  The longer you hold your breath, the more anxious and terrified you become as you’re starting to feel physically unwell.  Finally, the breath you are holding becomes toxic and you pass out.  That’s silly, you say.  I would never do that because the next breath always comes.

Aha!  You’ve just nailed it.  This is the perspective we are looking to adopt in our thinking.

In my experience, no magic overnight cure exists to keep us from attaching but I’m going to suggest three simple practices for you to try that in time will certainly help.

 Mindfulness – focusing your attention on now.

Going back to my breathing analogy, our breath is something we don’t think about very often.  It comes and it goes automatically.  If we are healthy, we take our breath for granted and have full trust that as we exhale the next breath will be readily available.  As you go through your day, when you feel yourself becoming worried or anxious about something you feel attached to, try to bring your awareness to your breath as a first step.  Then slowly start to focus on whatever it is you are doing that very moment.  Let’s say you are out for a walk or a run and you find yourself worrying and feeling anxious because your partner is out with his or her friends for the day and hasn’t contacted you. 

Step 1 – start focusing your attention on your breath.  Notice how it feels to inhale and to exhale. 

Step 2 – use all 5 of your senses to check out what is happening at this very moment as you walk or run.  Treat it as a game and approach it with curiosity.  What do you see?  What sounds can you hear around you?  Are the birds singing or is the wind rustling through the trees?  What do you feel?  Is it cold or hot outside?  How do your feet feel as they touch the ground beneath you?  What do you smell?  Does the air have a particular smell?  What do you taste?  Investigate the inside of your mouth to see if any tastes appear.

If your mind wanders during this process (it will, that’s ok, it is 100% natural), gently bring it back to your investigation of now.  Remind yourself that like your breath, you can trust that if you let go of this tight grip you have on trying to control your relationship, your relationship will take care of itself.  Just keep focusing on the now and enjoying your walk or run and using your 5 senses to make the most of it. 

Meditation – how to approach your thoughts

We’ve established that your breath is a trusted friend and great teacher.  Let’s use your breath in a simple 10-minute meditation. 

Sit in a comfortable position either on the floor or in a chair with your spine nice and straight.  If you are sitting in a chair, try to move your back away from the back of the chair.  Close your eyes.  Inhale and exhale normally through your nose. 

Bring your awareness to your trusted friend the breath, focusing on each inhale and each exhale.  Treat your breath as an anchor, keeping you present in the now as you did during your mindfulness practice.  Now, start to notice your thoughts.  See them as clouds passing overhead.  You may see a worry about losing your partner.  That’s ok – it’s just a cloud.  You may see another thought about the restructuring your company announced.  That’s ok – it’s just a cloud.  Having thought during meditation is perfectly normal and is ok.  We are trying to practice seeing your thoughts for what they are – just clouds.  They aren’t real.  The only thing that it real at this very moment is your breath.  Now, as you continue to watch your thoughts passing as clouds overhead, use your breath to separate the clouds.  As you inhale, the clouds are passing.  As you exhale, separate the clouds and watch the sun shine through.

Journaling – check your progress

As you practice your mindfulness and meditation exercises, journaling is a great way to chart your progress, especially surrounding your thinking patterns.  Try and record what happens when you practice mindfulness.  Do worrying thoughts invade?  Do you struggle to keep your attention on present moment?  When you meditate, what thoughts do you see in your clouds?  As you record, keep referring back to prior entries to see if you can identify patterns to your thinking.   

Commit yourself that you will practice these 3 exercises – mindfulness, meditation and journaling for 14 days.  Like any new exercise, you’ll need to practice to start seeing benefits.  The overall goal for the first 2 weeks is to break ever so slightly your tendency to get attached to outcomes versus living in the here and now.  If you do see benefits in the first 2 weeks, make a commitment to continue the 3 steps for longer term change. 

Remember, if you place the same trust in your life as your breath, you will find you feel much less worried and anxious.  Also, you should notice a pretty nice difference in your relationship.

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Tina Ward

Tina Ward

Bean counter; life long expat; yoga teacher; passionate advocate for mental health. I am also the founder of Yogaward International, a free online yoga community with one goal - to use the ancient principles of yoga to improve our mental and physical health.

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