There are few things more challenging than trying to sustain a long-term intimate relationship. Generally, we think of the challenges as money, sex, kids, in-laws, fidelity and habits. Most marital problems fall into one or more of these categories.
But if you are willing to consider your relationship as an element of your own spiritual practice, then I would like to offer you a different framework for the challenges in your relationship.
1. The Challenge of Acceptance
Letting go of trying to control how life unfolds and accepting your partner rather than trying to fix him or her;
2. The Challenge of Co-existing with Your Thoughts and Feelings (without acting on them)
Developing the self-discipline to have a roller coaster of thoughts and feelings on the inside without necessarily acting on them;
3. The Challenge of Skillful Attention
Cultivating an authentic sense of gratitude by noticing how you are supported and cared for, rather than what aggravates you;
4. The Challenge of Self-reflection
Using your relationship as an opportunity for examining your own conduct and taking responsibility, rather than blaming and criticizing your partner.
These challenges match up exactly to the skills I discuss in my book, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness. If we can figure out a way to cope skillfully with each of these challenges, we have the potential not only for a successful relationship, but to develop character and move forward on our own spiritual or religious path. This is not an easy path.
“For one human being to love another is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.” –Rainer Maria Rilke
Starts February 18, 2013
Several years ago I made a presentation for the One World Library Project in Bristol, Vermont on the theme, Cultivating a Sense of Gratitude in Relationships. Here’s a ten minute “short version” of my presentation, which specifically touches on the challenge of self-reflection and the importance of cultivating a sense of appreciation for our partners.
One of the forces that works against our ability to cultivate gratitude is familiarity. We get used to what our partner does for us. And as we become accustomed to what they do, a sense of expectation grows. It’s a lot like turning on the light switch in the bathroom. You walk through the door, turn on the switch, the light goes on, and you do what you came there to do. How often do you think, after you hit the switch, “wow, how nice that the light went on so I can see.” You probably don’t pay attention to the bathroom light at all until . . . . . it stops working. Then you express your frustration and disappointment as you go look for a new bulb.
Familiarity + Expectation = Absence of Gratitude
Expectation – Fulfillment of Expectation = Disappointment/Frustration
These are not formulae for a successful relationship with your partner, though it may work alright for your bathroom lighting.
February is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day, so I’ll be posting some additional ideas related to the challenges of marriage and intimate relationships. The ToDo Institute is also sponsoring a distance learning program called, Renewing Your Relationship, which starts on February 18, 2013. My wife is teaching the course and besides having over twenty years of experience in Japanese Psychology, she has the credential of having had to deal with me for the past twenty years. That’s no small accomplishment.
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......