What Buddha Taught Us About Relationships

I was reading an interesting article today, with the heading "8 January branded divorce day, with a surge of married couples seeking to split". According to the article, the three main killers of any relationship are financial pressure, family tensions and cheating.

I think we can learn a lot from Buddha when it comes to our relationships and with 42% of marriages ending in divorce, perhaps it's time for us to look at them in a different way. 

I remember something that Lama Yeshe once shared with us at a Buddhist teaching I attended a couple of years ago. When asked about how to be happy, he said "I don't understand you people. When someone tells you they no longer want you, your whole world falls apart. Why?" And that in itself was surprising coming from an old man in yellow robes, but the next bit made us all laugh "if they no longer want you, open the door and show them the way out. Then go find a new one, a better one and if you can't, go on holiday!" 

It really is that simple, except in reality it's not that easy. After all, we are complex creatures with so many emotions, that ending any relationship can be one of the most difficult times in our lives.

Buddha taught us that suffering is nearly always self-inflicted. We cause our own suffering because we won't let things go. We try to make others like or love us when clearly they are not capable or even right for us. We cling to a story of how we want things to be even if they no longer work. 

These three Buddhist teachings have helped me understand whenever I struggle within my relationships, I often remind myself of their importance.

Non-Attachment

In my limited understanding, non-attachment means to be open and flowing in your relationships. To be in the moment, to not have so many expectations and to not have a pre-planned outcome. As soon as we start to build a story around where we want our relationship to go, we lose the point, we are no longer just being we are now striving to get somewhere. and this will often lead to disappointment.

And in order to have a non-attached relationship, you must not rest your entire happiness on it.  You have to keep your own identity and continue to create your life the way you want it to be. Of course, there are compromises to make when being with someone else but be careful to what extent you allow this to develop. People lose themselves in their relationships, then when they end they fall apart and I speak from experience.

Inner peace begins the moment you choose to not allow another person or event to control your emotions - Pema Chodron

Impermanence

We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.
— Pema Chodron

A fundamental Buddhist teaching is the understanding that nothing stays the same, that things are always changing. Buddha taught us that our constant resistance to change is what causes us to suffer. And this applies to events as much as it does to people in our lives, we change, they change and so it is fruitless trying to stop that from happening.  

As a parent, we see the changing relationship between us and our children. They are totally dependent on us, then they start to become independent. As teenagers, they begin to push every boundary to exert their own personality. Then they grow into mature adults, we can become friends if we have that kind of bond and eventually they may even become our carers.

This is the constant evolution of our relationships, we change, they change and we have to be able to let that change happen.

 

Compassion

Compassion is the most life-shifting teaching that Buddha shared. When we come from a compassionate angle, we stop being so harsh on ourselves and those around us. When we see in others things we do not like we learn to let it got. We can work on ourselves but it's not our job to change others, they have their own path to follow. 

And self-compassion is where we begin to fully understand and accept ourselves as we are. We do this with a kind and soft approach, just like we do with a child. We see ourselves as we are, we accept it and then we can change if we need to. 

Searching for happiness through others will cause our relationships to break because we can only ever be happy when we are happy with ourselves. We become resentful when others can not fulfil our needs, even though we have done nothing to help ourselves attain our full potential. 

In the practice of Mindfulness we try to see what is going on inside, to see our habitual patterns and try to take some control over reactions to these thoughts. We come to accept that just like we are imperfect, so is everyone else. 

We begin to accept the perfection of our imperfections.