My husband and I celebrated 18 years of marriage this week. In today’s climate of dissatisfaction, conflict and ultimately, divorce, it seems to be a minor accomplishment! Here I offer my own top three tips for a successful long-term relationship:
1. Don’t colonize another person. Any other person.
This means, refrain from imposing your own agenda on them. As one of my own teachers so beautifully put it, “watch your prayerful stillness dissolve whenever you try to control another person.” We kid ourselves by pretending that we would never do this, but watch the little ways in which you press your will on others, even your partner. You’re watching more golf? Are you really still hungry? It means not interrogating. Even questions about whereabouts fit into this category. This means that you must be centered. So look after your own inner peace and spiritual fulfillment because even if you are the only one practicing, watch as it transforms your world. This may be as simple as being fine by yourself. The presumption, of course, is that you have trust in place and so with confidence as the foundation, you may coexist as two independent people who are compatible and who enjoy spending time together, by choice.
2. Be the “Deciders.”
Know that you are adults, and one of the perks of being an adult is that you get to make the decisions that are right for you. In a relationship, that means feeling free to forge arrangements that work to promote harmony in the home, regardless of traditional norms. We have all imbibed a lifetime of ideas from society, media, family and friends, often without considering whether or not we agree with them. And even though we think of ourselves as independent thinkers, notice the ways you unconsciously allow yourself to look upon those ideas as standards. It is especially revealing to notice when you allow yourself to measure your habits and domestic arrangements against these societal norms, allowing insecurity to sneak in when they don’t measure up. This includes everything from when you eat, if you eat together all the time, when and how often you have intimate relations and whether you even sleep in the same room, to whether you take Sunday off. It especially includes issues related to child-rearing, which can be the toughest area in a marriage.
3. Show Gratitude.
So simple, yet so difficult. Say I love you. Everyday. And say thank you for all the little things. This means seeing the positive and letting those myriad positive things serve as a counterbalance to the irksome things. Surely the former outweighs the latter! This also means “un-seeing” those little irksome things because you know that in the big picture, they don’t matter. Unseeing also happens when you use those irksome things as mirrors—what similar things do you do? This diffuses frustration and prevents anger from arising in the first place. It means valuing being happy over being right. It is so easy, but it is always the easiest things that we forget (like being present, or breathing consciously). The tension and stress of everyday living keep us unconscious. And so, we allow annoyance and disappointment to grow within. Be willing to be honest with yourself—how often do you really say I love you? Or, I appreciate you. This preserves the feeling of connection between you—the bedrock on which everything else depends. Remember, your shift in this direction will naturally and magically create a similar shift in your partner. And in this spirit of gratitude, the feeling of love and beauty will begin to permeate the domain, displacing all negativity, the way the evening breeze relieves the afternoon heat.