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Self Reflection For Couples – Naikan Exercise

Naikan - A Chance to Look Inward

Today I want to introduce you to a practice known as Naikan.

It’s Japanese and translates to “inside looking” or “introspection”. I refer to it as self-reflection.

The practice of Naikan will be of great benefit for couples, especially those who feel stuck with feelings of resentment, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, stress, and sadness.

You may be stuck in unhelpful patterns, have gridlocked issues, emotional disconnection or have suffered an injustice or have been hurt in some way.

Let’s learn more, Try it and see. It’s the only way.

What is Naikan?

Naikan is based around three simple questions. They are:

  1. What have I received from? (partner)
  2. What have I given to? (partner)
  3. What trouble and difficulties have I caused? (partner)

Sounds simple enough right?

The beauty is in the simplicity.

The power is in taking the time to practice it at length.

I’m not suggesting you spring for a week long retreat meditating on these questions, but you may be surprised what transpires after 15 minutes or more of quiet self-reflection.

What's the Purpose of Naikan Practice?

To improve the quality of your relationships via a deeper understanding and ultimately a change in behaviour and communication. Because not changing, automatically means getting more of what you currently have. If you want a better relationship, then you’re going to have to actively work on it.

Frustration and anger can be felt when your standards aren’t met, or something is not living up to your expectation. Perhaps an injustice has occurred that has broken one of your rules or beliefs.

How do you see your life, your relationship?

Through your eyes of course. Your perspective. Your view of the world.

Naikan or “inside looking” will be a chance for you to take “time out” on your dominating perspective, to take a look inward and see things from a new perspective; what others see.

Why would we want to do this?

A fresh perspective can reveal fresh new insights that you may have otherwise been blind too.

With new insight comes new ways to take action, resulting in growing wisdom and deeper understanding.

Self-reflection is a perfect way to increase your level of self awareness too. Even if you don’t have any breakthrough insights, you will undoubtedly enjoy the Naikan experience as your raise your level of self-awareness.

Related Resource: Hold That Thought

Who Created Naikan?

Japanese businessman Yoshimoto Ishin (1916 -1988) a devout Jodo Shinshu Buddhist developed the method to help people understand themselves and their relationships. Click here for the Wikipedia entry.

Lets get into it.

How to Practice Naikan?

Naikan reflection is based on three questions:

  1. What have I received from? (partner)
  2. What have I given to? (partner)
  3. What trouble and difficulties have I caused? (partner)


Let’s focus on the first one.

bonsai tree

What have I received from? (partners name)

Sitting quietly, read this question and say it to yourself to keep it at the fore front of your mind.

Perhaps say it to yourself very slowly. Think of each words meaning as you say it.

Sitting quietly, what comes to mind? Perhaps write what comes to mind, create a list.

Enter a state of flow and discover all the things you have received from (your partner)…

For example: It could be – love, admiration, warmth, security, a shoulder to lean on, a shoulder to cry on, someone to laugh at your jokes, someone to share experiences with, chocolate, children, morning coffee, a reason to get out of bed, a life purpose?

Follow your intuition – listen to the different parts of your body.

  • What does your head say?
  • what does your gut say?
  • What does your heart say?

After creating your list continue reflecting on what you have written or thought of. Focus on the feelings these answers bring you.

Do you feel grateful?

If so, feel free to bask in feeling this way before moving on to the next question…


Next – What have I given to? (partner)

Again in a quiet space – spend the time and reflect on What have I given to….

Dig through the layers one at a time, there will be things, objects, money, time… What else?

What do you give? Is it care? support? What else? I’m going to let you unpack this one yourself.

Write down any insights you have.

Last question now…

What trouble and difficulties have I caused?

This is self-reflection – its for you only. So be open and honest. Be brave and let the question soak in for deep self discovery.

In a calm state of mind, feel safe to lower your own defences and ask yourself gently…

“what trouble and difficulties have I caused?”

The purpose is for understanding, not to direct shame or blame.

Use your growing mindfulness and awareness skills (Members – see my Think Love & Kindness program) to notice the discomfort you are likely to feel.

There’s no need to react to it right now. Just notice it and leave your emotions to the side (neutral) as you ponder the question.

Write down any specific insights at the end of your self reflection.

At a later time, you may want to process deeper what this means for you. You may ultimately decide to do something about your discovery!

What Did You Discover?

Three examples could be:

  • I have caused a break in trust. I’m responsible for unsettling our once strong connection. I enabled sadness and feelings of rejection. I feel sorry.
  • I have caused distance in my relationship, and a cold bitterness to develop at times because I am working away and not prioritising connection. I feel distant and lack direction.
  • I’ve caused tension and fear by letting my stress and habits boil over at home. This is not fair on my partner or children.

Related Resource: Five Simple Gratitude Tips

Where Can I Practice Naikan? How Often? How Long?

Anywhere – a quiet place is best.

Anytime – try once a day for a week, then three times a week. What do you notice?

30 Minutes to 60 minutes should be plenty of time. See what works for you.

Mix It Up

With a focus on your partner. Perhaps ask the questions while looking at different time periods of your life & knowing each other. Reflect on the passage of time. Try the Hold That Thought exercise.

Change the focus from your partner to a family member. Afterward, reflect on what differences you observe.

Another way to practice reflection and challenge each other across relationship themes is to use the Love Sparks – Relationship Affirmation cards on a daily basis.

Creating the Change

How will you change because of your reflections?

What decisions will you make?

How will you commit to making your relationship better? Is there more to give? Things to take away?

Well done.

I’d love to hear how you go with this practice.

I will be practicing Naikan over the next few weeks in my personal daily meditation sessions and look forward to sharing my insights with you soon.

Kind regards


Next Steps: Life Values for Relationships

The Life Values for Reltionships video explores how focusing on your Values naturally leads to healthier and stronger relationships. How will your relationship benefit?

Better communication, more quality time, deeper understanding? Find out in this video special.

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