November 6, 2017

When Good Relationships turn Bad: how to Fix ’em like a Buddhist.

Notice the use of “when” in the title.

I thought of using “if,” but I changed my mind because relationships always turn bad.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed for a breakup or a divorce, but there will definitely be fights, disagreements, moments of feeling down or in need of space, and moments of confusion or loss.

It’s inevitable.

So how do we deal with this?

I recently had a conversation that inspired me to tackle this subject. An acquaintance claimed that relationships never work because they eventually turn bad. Though I didn’t take part in the debate, I was struck by a pivotal realization when I heard this.

I realized that things “turning bad” in a relationship is not the problem itself—the problem is that we forget, or fail to accept, that things not going well is simply part of being in a relationship.

Our refusal to accept this truth is part of our problem. And in studying the teachings of the Buddha, I’ve learned that the power of acknowledgement is stronger than the power of denial.

The Buddha taught about the Eight Worldly Concerns, which include the four hopes and the four fears we all experience at some point:

1. Our hope for happiness versus our fear of suffering.
2. Our hope for fame versus our fear of insignificance.
3. Our hope for praise versus our fear of blame.
4. Our hope for gain versus our fear of loss.

According to the Buddha, we will suffer so long as we’re stuck in the cycle of hope and fear. We want happiness but we refuse to suffer; we want to win but we refuse to lose.

The truth is that we can’t choose to experience just one part of the cycle. We must take the bad with the good. As the Buddha taught with The Four Noble Truths, life is suffering. This is the nature of reality.

When it comes to romantic relationships, we tend to want to focus only on the good side. We build certain hopes of how our relationship and our partner should be, and hold tightly to the images we create of them. We want our relationship to work out a certain way and we refuse to accept it otherwise.

Accepting that things will turn bad at some point in our relationship means we accept that circumstances and people are in constant flux. This is why we shouldn’t cling to our desire for only the positive. Acknowledgement and acceptance are imperative to Buddhist philosophy—and they are part of why meditation is so important. Through this practice, we learn to stop running away from what is and instead, face it.

In order to make our relationships work, we need to understand that there will be tough times. And that’s normal. What’s not normal is being in a constant state of bliss. When we acknowledge that a difficult cycle will occur, we minimize our disappointment.

It’s similar to going camping when the weather is good, but being fully prepared for rain. Although the sun is out, we still know to bring tarps, jackets, and weather-proof shoes. Instead of blaming the weather, we understand that the weather is ever-changing.

Acknowledgment opens the door to solution. When we acknowledge a problem or a truth, we no longer see it from behind tinted glasses. We no longer need to force ourselves to pretend that everything is okay. Acceptance of the problem leads us to make more conscious choices and allows us to be more fully in the moment.

Then, when the bad cycle comes, we can deal with it—mindfully. We can watch it happen, solve the issue, then prepare for the inevitable good cycle.

With time, we learn to simply see these “cycles” with gratitude—and without the duality of good or bad—because they make up the whole of our relationship.



Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: YouTube
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

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