Most times I feel like I’m pretty good at walking my talk and practicing what I preach. I try to live in an expanded, aware state. I try to see the other’s point of view. I’m not a push-over, but I try to come from a place of compassion. In other words, I take my yoga off the mat and carry it everywhere I go. But the one place where it’s most difficult to practice yoga is in my relationship with my husband. Most times things are just fine, but a few wrong words or actions from him can really yank me right out of center and into a firestorm of emotion.
This is something that really surprised me. For much of my yoga life, I was single. As it was for those ancient yogis living alone in a cave, it’s so much easier to maintain the namaste attitude when no one’s stuff is rubbing up against your stuff. Of course I have a son and family and friends, but for some reason our romantic partners can push our buttons like no one else will. The old adage that “two hearts become one” is simply not true. A partnership is made of two individuals, each with their own conditioning, expectations, habits, needs, and desires. There is always some compromising going on to balance the needs of the individuals for the sake of the relationship. No matter how much you love each other, you are bound to really annoy each other at times. I’ve been looking at this as a failure on my part. I thought I had learned and practiced so much that I would greet all challenges with great equanimity and a few wise words, and there would always be peace in our home. Ha! This has certainly not been the case. Even so, I think yoga has helped tremendously because I am at least aware of what I’m doing. I’m usually slow to anger, but if I do have an emotional reaction, I can quickly see it and pull back. If I’m wrong, I know I’m wrong and I apologize. If I’m right, I stand up for myself. (Interestingly, I was never able to stand up for myself before I started practicing yoga. Yoga puts you in center and connects you with your innate wisdom. You KNOW. You don’t doubt yourself. You feel your inner power. You respect yourself and expect others to respect you as well. This makes a person a healthier partner.)
I recently listened to a talk called “Waking Up with Relationships,” by Susan Piver, and I’m so glad I did. Apparently it’s not just me! There are countless people on the spiritual path who find that their patience, clarity, and calmness go right out the window when there’s a conflict with their partner. It’s human nature. Because we are so invested in our relationships and what they mean to us, there tends to be more reactivity. Piver was coming from a Buddhist perspective, and even though I am not Buddhist, I found that what she said relates to any human being on any spiritual path. Here are some truths about love that I gathered from her talk:
Relationships are uncomfortable. The expectation that they should be comfortable causes problems.
Love is the least safe thing there is. It takes openness, courage, a big heart and big mind, and there’s no guarantee that it will turn out OK.
Relationships never stabilize. There are always ups and downs and the cycle is unpredictable.
These things may sound like bad news, but it’s simply reality. Having unrealistic expectations sets us up for disappointment. So what’s the answer? According to Piver, it’s meeting the discomfort and riding the wave together. She says that if you can both stand in the crazy storm of love, our container for love will grow so we can hold everything that comes with it: passion, distance, chaos, affection, etc.
This is the “hard work” part of marriage that everyone talks about. Early in a relationship, those first disagreements can be devastating, but with time you learn that it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t meant for each other, as long as both people are trying their best and there’s no abuse.
Here’s some of Susan Piver’s advice on how to show up in a relationship:
Have deeply good manners. Be thoughtful, truthful, and clear — and be present.
Make the other person at least as important as you are and even a little bit more. Do not abandon your needs or martyr yourself, but put the other just a little bit above you. The real power is in being the lover, not the loved.
Commit to being loving. Make an intention to make everything that comes up a means to deepen intimacy.
I would add “Practice Awareness” to the list. Be aware of when you need a little space. Humans constantly cycle between the urge to merge and the urge to separate themselves. When we recognize our need for space, take it — or give it — with compassion rather than unconsciously starting an argument to get some space. Recognize if you’re feeling reactive and delay talking about hot-button issues until you feel more calm and clear. But take care of those hot-button issues. If there’s something coming up over and over again, fix it. If the two of you can’t figure out how to fix it, get a counselor to help you navigate the issue. Practice yoga and meditation to cultivate awareness and prevent becoming a slave to your thoughts and fears.
Hearing Susan Piver’s talk made me feel a lot better. It confirmed that this is a normal part of the human experience and the spiritual human experience. She said, “Being in a relationship is a difficult, but profound path. It is not for everyone, but if your tradition focuses on the cultivation, generation, and offering of compassion, there is no better practice than being in an intimate relationship.”