BUDDHISM FOR COUPLES: Be the Zen Master of Your Relationship

Madeline Grigg, July 30, 2015 |

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In her book Buddhism for Couples: A Calm Approach to Relationships, Sarah Napthali illustrates that practicing Buddhist philosophy can yield profound and enriching effects in our relationships. To demonstrate Buddhism’s benefits, Napthali tackles common conflicts that couples encounter. These calming practices can turn frustrating situations into untapped opportunities that help you and your partner understand each other in intimate and fulfilling ways.

Here are three examples:

1. HOUSEWORK

Oh, the bane of many couples: Whose turn is it to wash the dishes? Who’s taking the garbage out? Why is the hamper overflowing?

Rather than doing all of the work and demoralizing your partner (or passive-aggressively doing none!), Napthali suggests that assertion is the way to go. Be confident and grounded when addressing your partner—explain the ways you feel they are lacking, whether it’s actual elbow grease or appreciation for the work you have done, but avoid negativity and anger.

What’s more, many household chores actually serve as productive forms of mediation. Rhythmic actions like washing dishes or sweeping the floor lull the mind into deeper contemplation and freedom from quotidian anxieties.

From Napthali’s To-Do List:

  • Address the issue of housework inequity but ensure that you communicate skillfully, avoiding nagging, criticizing, and yelling
  • Keep in mind the gender roles you model for your children
  • Make peace with housework. See tasks clearly and experiment with a meditative approach

2. SEX

It’s a common misconception these days to assume that good sex makes for a happier relationship or an improved lifestyle. This is mainly because the majority of advertisements today sell sex in order to sell their product. For example, ads persuade you to believe that their brand of deodorant or Greek yogurt will make you sexier (therefore happier). Napthali suggests that the key to success in sex is detachment from this belief.

“According to the Second Noble Truth,” she writes, “attachment is the cause of suffering and stress. This is no less the case when it comes to sex.” Instead of clinging to these prescribed ideas about sex and happiness, Napthali suggests letting go of your current beliefs about sex and becoming more welcoming and mindful of new ideas. For example, try Napthali’s adapted Buddhist exercise “beginner’s mind.” The exercise asks you to practice mindful Buddhism by refocusing on as many sensations as possible to keep yourself  in the present moment.

From Napthali’s To-Do List:

  • Try applying the practice of mindfulness in the bedroom to relieve yourself of distractions and experiment with “beginner’s mind” in bed
  • Explore the possibility of letting go of culturally driven assumptions about sex

CREATE A SPACIOUS MIND

This is one of Napthali’s tips for reducing anxiety and stress in a relationship. Since it wouldn’t be Buddhism without an apt and snappy metaphor, Napthali explains: “If we add a teaspoon of poison to a cup of water then the water becomes contaminated, but if we add a teaspoon of poison to a lagoon, it has little effect. Similarly, if our partner makes a careless comment when our mind is spacious, we feel little effect.”

But how, exactly, do you create a spacious mind? It’s simple: Be open-minded. Consider things from other people’s perspective. Consider things from your partner’s perspective, especially. Try not to judge, as “mindfulness is non-judgmental.” As a result, you’ll be in better control of your thoughts and less likely to create (or exacerbate!) a stressful situation.

From Napthali’s To-Do List:

  • Start asking yourself, “How much of my suffering is self-inflicted?”
  • Use meditation or mindfulness in your daily life to cultivate a spacious mind that is not offended by every hint of criticism

 

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