Falling in love is easy. Staying in love – that’s the real work.
There’s so many things in life can feel beyond our reach. Flying a plane, making a croquembouche from scratch, understanding tax returns, even making healthy, delicious meals every day can be so damn difficult. But equipped with some inspiration by throwing your ingredients into Google, perusing recipe.com, and enough YouTube tutorials and utilising the tried and tested trial and error method, you’re bound to make something quite edible, eventually.
So what about love? How can we improve our skills and knowledge when it comes to love? The closest you get at school might be sex ed., but for most us, there is no class, subject or teacher helping you learn how to build positive relationships.
For many of us, our ideas of love and relationships are formed from a young age – usually we piece together a patchwork of understanding from what we observe from our parents, what we read in novels and catch from The Notebook and Love Actually. We may see people around us talk about their feelings, emotions, hope and dreams and we dream that maybe someday we too might experience something similar. Our ideas mix with our dreams and intertwine with our beliefs to concoct a recipe for our idea of the ideal relationship and our ideal partner. An idea that many of us rarely question, or change.
Have you ever been in a relationship that encounters problems after the honeymoon period? We tell ourselves that we’ve fallen out of love. We go from speaking daily to avoiding calls to pick up milk on the way home. All that once turned us on about our partner is edged out of our mind by the little annoying things that drive us mad beyond belief. I think it’s useful to reconsider the honeymoon period simply as a heightened state of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is our natural human capacity to be in the present moment with a sense of curiosity and compassion. And we all remember those moments in relationships full of excitement, curiosity and passion. You start off wanting to spend as much time with you partner as possible and you look for ways you can learn more about them, to get closer, to dive deeper. What’s your favourite colour? What movie made you cry? What scares you? Do you like The Notebook? You wait patiently for their answers and, perhaps unconsciously, you offer them your full curiosity.
This kind of attention, this mindful attention, is hard to ignore. When we receive it, we want more, it makes us feel valued and appreciated. Being the centre of someone’s curiosity is an amazing feeling, but giving your everything to someone isn’t sustainable – not everything. The problems that arise in that post-honeymoon period are often caused by this transition period, when we slip out of mindfulness. It can feel like something happens to the relationship – they reschedule then cancel a date, things start popping up in the way of hanging out, and you feel spurned, and it becomes more difficult to give so much of yourself over and too often that leads to relationship breakdown. Often, these honeymoon period problems are caused as both partners react to being less mindful in the relationship. You’re still genuinely interested in your partner, you’re present to them and you’re compassionate and understanding of them, but compared to that period of absolute curiosity and passion, it can feel somehow broken.
Remember, mindfulness is our capacity to be in the present moment with a sense of curiosity and compassion. We can achieve this by being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and avoiding being overly reactive by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness isn’t some mystical woo-woo that you have to spend years researching, it is accessible to anyone willing to seek it.
So how can living a more mindful life help you cultivate a greater relationship? Here’s some food for thought.
Your first relationship is to yourself.
“Your relationship to yourself is and always will be directly reflected in all your relationships with others.
First ask yourself, am I in this relationship because I’m scared to be alone? In most eastern texts, the first teachings are about the nature of our relationships with our self. We are asked to listen, be patient and understand our own thoughts, habits and tendencies so we can find compassion for the parts of ourselves we might not like so much. Loneliness, anger, fear, jealousy exist in all of us, some of us have awareness and an ability to handle these feelings, some of us don’t. Having a truly meaningful relationship depends on our ability to be alone and feel okay with ourselves. When we’re mindful we can recognise when they we ‘clinging’ to our partner from a sense of lacking, rather than longing. Once we identify that motivation, we can detach from unhealthy thoughts and develop more clarity around what is driving our actions and thoughts.
“If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence”
Thich Nhat Hanh
This is a no-brainer. How can we relate to ourselves and our partners if we are not even there? And you know what I’m talking about – scrolling through Snapchat when your partner asks how your day was or watching the football when your partner asks for the third time to take the rubbish out is not being present. It’s being absent. Relationships can’t flourish when we’re absent – they flourish when we are present with ourselves and our partners. Commit to putting your phones down when you go out to dinner and spend some time being fully present to your partner.
Listen, for no other reason than to listen.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
– Stephen R. Covey
We are hard-wired to look for problems; to fix things. But sometimes we don’t need someone to fix our problems, sometimes we just need someone to hear them. Listening to our partners is a powerful exercise in presence and love. When we listen, we open up our capacity to understand. Truly meaningful relationships prosper when we understand each other – our hopes, fears, stressors and regrets. When we listen to with the intent to understand, we can see beyond their words and see what they are communicating with their eyes, hands, and body.
Compassion, or Karuna in the pali language, is the capacity in each of us to not only empathise with another person, but to genuinely help them suffer less. Compassion is borne out of listening and understanding, it allows to help our partner hurt less as they tackle hardships. It is strengthened by our capacity to understand they are perfectly imperfect humans with emotions, needs, dreams and desires – not just a body – with which to co-exist. A human that also experiences fear, hope, love and regret, just like you do. Seeing your partner in this holistic view can dramatically change the nature of a relationship because we see in them what we see in ourselves – an imperfectly human trying to do the best they can with what they have.
This too shall pass.
“Life’s impermanence, I realized, is what makes every single day so precious. It’s what shapes our time here. It’s what makes it so important than not a single moment be wasted.”
Observing life’s impermanence – the knowledge that all things eventually end – doesn’t have to be a grim topic. Tempered with a dose of optimism and perspective, it can be incredibly liberating. Acknowledging that the time we have with our partners is limited reminds us that wasting time holding on to the little stresses in our life, like arguing over what show to watch, or whether you really need more new cushions, could be better spent being totally ‘there’ with our partner instead. Accepting that all things will eventually come to end gives us a freedom to experience our days, and our partners, with a sense of genuine, mindful love.
All our time is limited – we have no control over that. We do, however, have control over how we spend our time. We can choose to spend it caught up in our thoughts and anxieties or Instagram stories and ASOS. But I believe the best use of our time is to live mindfully. Living mindfully allows us to be fully present to all that surrounds us – the people, the experiences, the little moments that make the brightest memories – and all while we navigate the ups and downs of life with as much calm, compassion and clarity we can muster.
Yours in vibes, Manoj.