by J. Sumitta Hudson
With all the news of Tiger Woods’ marital troubles, I have to think why we care so much. I believe that we have always imagined Tiger as the perfect role model (even for non-golfers) of a decent human being, and when our role models fail to live up to their legend, disappointment sets in. So what is the secret to a good marriage that alludes even the great Tiger Woods?
After the rings are exchanged, cake is cut, honeymoon tans have faded marriages have to get down to business. The enthusiasm of this new phase in the relationship – the marriage phase—is exciting like a new car: it is shiny, sexy, smooth to ride. Like a new car, we are extra careful in how we treat our new relationships. With a car we do what we can to avoid scratches, change oil regularly, etc. In a new marriage, we work hard to avoid conflict, temptation, maintain passion.
So what happens? What happened to this snapshot of a “perfect couple?”
The first realization is that we must understand that the union of two people dynamically changes people. Each person is an ever changing process of phenomena where each experience continually changes who we are. We continually grow, change and redefine ourselves. When two people get married they create a third process amalgamating the processes of the two individuals. Two people get married, which creates three processes: him, her, and us.
All too often, we are too stuck in our own activities to notice that we are continually changing creatures. Our minds have what is called “body schema” where each change in our body and personality is instantly rewritten into the definition of who we are. This is why we do not associate ourselves as the person we were when we were two, ten or twenty years old. This is how patients who lose a limb are able to make body adjustments.
So when we are unaware of how we are continually changing as a process and see ourselves unmindfully as defined and static individuals, it is easy to do the same with our partner. He is the man (or woman) you married oh so many years ago: except that he isn’t.
How many times have we heard, “He used to be so…” or “She used to do …” or “We always use to …” as the lamenting cry of people looking to divorce. A couple walking unmindfully through time will always be surprised when they look back someday and see that their partner has wondered off. The process of “them” has been a distant memory.
Coming out of the fog, we call to our partners and ask them to go back to where you came from. Trying to retrace back to the way things use to be only makes it worse, because it is like trying to fit into the blue jeans you used to wear in 6th grade—you have just outgrown them.
But are drifting relationships doomed? No. They just need to be evaluated anew. They need to be seen with fresh eyes.
1) Do not try and judge a renewing relationship based on history. Evaluate who you are now and who your partner is now. Without knowing each other previously, would both of you be interested in each other romantically and for a committed relationship? Too many couples keep trying to drag in their history to justify staying together or breaking up. We must recognize that the people that originally married are gone.
BUDDHIST PRACTICE: Meditate on the fact that all things are impermanent. Everything has its time and changes. Liberate yourself from what no longer exists and engage in the world around you now.
2) Be honest with each other. This seems pretty obvious, and yet so few people do it. Many people believe that lying or withholding the truth is what is best. Not only is lying harmful to the relationship, but it is harmful to yourself. Each lie, cover up, and truth shoved under the rug is a secret that takes up energy to maintain. Lies have to be remembered, alibis have to be constructed, and reality has to be altered. Do this for long enough and it gets exhausting.
BUDDHIST PRACTICE: The fourth precept of “I will refrain from false speech” (Musāvāda veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi) develops our mind to keep our thoughts wholesome.
3) Don’t just say “I love you,” love. We use the heart to symbolize the organ that loves. It is also the organ that never stops working. Love is a verb and requires continual effort and development. When we hear the phrases, “fell out of love” or “I love them but I am not IN love with them” we are essentially saying that we stopped exercising those muscles and let them atrophy.
BUDDHIST PRACTICE: Metta, or loving-kindness, meditation is a regular part of our daily practice. We practice it wishing the world to be well and happy. We must also put it into practice—starting with those at home.
4) Let go of Ego! Remember the analogy of relationships being like a car? Well cars fall apart from wear and tear, which is caused by friction. Work to remove the unnecessary friction in your relationship. These are arguments and struggles we have caused by our own ego. We always have a choice to be right or happy in an argument, rarely both. That is because most arguments aren’t about anything substantive, but about our desire to be in charge, seem smart, appear in control. Imagine each argument you have with your partner as if the people talking were strangers—does the argument seem less important now? When you feel the urge to get into an argument with your partner be silent for as long as you can and see how often the problem works itself out by itself.
BUDDHIST PRACTICE: Mindfulness meditation develops the mind to see what is and is not. When we can calm out mind from the five hindrances and reevaluate our relationships, it is easy to see how ego has not given the best relationship advice.
5) Be partners. Relationship words say it all: couple, partner, marriage, etc. The reason why you are together is because you are creating that third entity of “us.” That requires that you do things together and share your lives. A good team sticks together and supports each other. Unfortunately, people forget that teams don’t just happen, they are developed.
BUDDHIST PRACTICE: Part of our Buddhist practice is to see how all things are interconnected, and nowhere is that more obvious than in a committed relationship. Your family is your own little Sangha that is there to support you and for you to support.