You might be in the best romantic relationship you have ever had.
You might rarely disagree, fight, or play games. You might think your relationship is not struggling. You might think your relationship doesn’t need saving.
While all of this might be true, I think almost every romantic relationship out there needs saving, and at some point, it will struggle too.
The longer we stay together, the more work we need to put in to make the relationship last even longer. Regardless of the depth of our love and devotion, working on our relationships is necessary and vital.
And it’s not the kind of work that’s exhausting or depleting; it’s the fun kind of work. There aren’t any typical guidelines or rules to follow. But there are lessons to learn, mindsets to adopt, and lots and lots of self-introspection on almost a daily basis.
One of the mindsets that has helped me manage my romantic relationships is the Buddhist notion of impermanence (aniccā).
When it comes to love, impermanence is not the easiest thing to think about. We usually deny it, brush it under the rug, or think it could never happen to us—at least not anytime soon. We want permanence. We want to stay with our partner and keep them in our bed, under our own sheets, and on our couches. And if we could, we would probably make a perfume with their scent and bottle it up.
Thinking about it, it might be a little silly to want to keep someone this close. But, realistically, we’re not to blame. As human beings, permanence equals security. We want security in our jobs, with family and friends, financially, and most importantly, romantically. The foundation of every good relationship is to feel safe—secure.
And it’s totally possible. We can create emotional safety with our partner that can last decades. However, it’s not always possible to create physical safety. We can’t always guarantee that our partner won’t change or leave. And they can’t guarantee we won’t either. Wanting (only) permanence and everything around us to last will cause so much suffering, disappointment, and heartbreak in our lives. It’s like walking on a treadmill: we think we’re moving forward, but in reality, we’re still where we are.
Having said that, if we want to save our romantic relationships and truly move forward, we need to take impermanence more seriously. We need to break the fears we might have around it and accept it as a normal part of life.
Impermanence is a great wake-up call. There is so much opportunity in it. And, the truth is, impermanence doesn’t always mean getting a divorce or breaking up. Impermanence is an idea—a mindset—that allows us to look at our relationships through a new lens.
Here’s how impermanence can become a vital component of your love bond:
Accepting that everything is bound to change. Change can potentially render us lost, disoriented, and overwhelmed. Most of the time, we might find ourselves resisting change because we don’t know what it has in store for us. We like what’s known, what’s certain, what’s available before our own eyes. Certainty and stability make us feel lighter and possibly happier. Our life is easier when we know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. But life is much more complex than this.
As the Buddhists have long believed, the essence of existence is built on change. Every second, every minute, every hour of our lives can abruptly change and transform into something we hadn’t anticipated before. Although we might sleep in the same place every night and go to the same job every day, in the grand scheme of things, all of this is slowly changing, metamorphosing, and disintegrating. But we don’t see it from day-to-day or moment-to-moment.
The same holds true for our romantic relationships. They’re constantly metamorphosing, but we fail to see it because we constantly deny it—or reject it. If this moment feels good with our partner, we want it to last. If this moment is bad, we want it to end. While we want consistency badly and might not accept any other concept, consistency might be hurting our relationship.
To save the love we hold for our partner, we need to welcome the ebb and flow that’s crowning our relationship. We need to let go of the image we have created about our partner in our minds. They might never be the same person twice, and they might not hold the same values, goals, and needs for the rest of their lives. They’re constantly changing, just like the notion of impermanence suggests, and we need to learn how to swim in their dynamic waters.
In return, we can also accept our own new phases and not hold on to the layers we are meant to shed. We also accept and understand the fluctuating nature of our relationships. If it’s good today, it’s good. If it’s bad today, it’s also good. Impermanence can be an extremely beneficial coping mechanism in our relationships if we let it pervade our minds.
Holding on less to our egos. In our daily lives, we tend to become too attached to our egos and what they want. “I” want this. “I” don’t like that. “I” can’t accept this. For the ego, everything that happens is personal and threatening to our sense of identity. Through its presence, we become slightly more attached to our emotions, wants, behaviors, actions, needs, desires, and purposes.
Oftentimes, we might become too attached to these thoughts or emotions that we can literally alter any good situation in our lives and turn it into something hostile. While the ego thinks it’s keeping us safe from hurt, the truth is, it’s the one hurting us—and our relationships.
In romantic relationships, it’s common for couples to fight, misunderstand each other, or trigger each other. But these are not the main problem. The big issue is the ego and how it perceives the conflict. When the ego is hurt, we might criticize our partner, judge them, downsize them, or blame them. And we do this because we think the hurt, the problem, or the situation is going to last forever; our ego thinks it won’t ever end.
But it will, and realizing this precious truth (that emotions and events always end) can help us cope with fights smoothly. When we realize how short our time on Earth is, we consciously choose where to put our energy instead of wasting it on situations that trigger our egos. Think of impermanence and how this ugly, messy moment will eventually end, and check for yourself how you will react less defensively. Instead of having mindless communication, we begin to mindfully choose our words, actions, and behaviors to save our relationships.
Appreciating every moment. Last but not least, realizing that everything in this life is short-lasting helps us appreciate the time we spend with our partner. When two or more people get together or live together, it might get harder for them to appreciate the little things in life. We focus so much on responsibilities, tasks, and endless to-dos that we forget to show appreciation, notice the beautiful moments, and do little gestures that matter.
Regardless of how busy you get, never forget your (spiritual) essence. Don’t forget to live and delve into this moment that’s sure as hell not coming twice. Think of the time when you will be older and closer to death. The time when sickness might take you away from your lover, or the other way round. This isn’t a movie; this is real life. We’re mortals, our time on this earth is short, and we have to make the best out of it.
Loosen your grip on problems, and instead, open yourself up to the endless possibilities of life. This is how we save our relationships.