Four Marital Relationship Tips Meant to Improve Your Life
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My wife and I are traveling to the devotee farm community, Gita Nagari, near Port Royal, PA this Thursday to assist other members of the Grihastha Vision Team facilitate a couples' retreat this weekend (June 7-9). In preparing for our part of the retreat, I’m naturally thinking of what makes a successful marriage and relationship. What might be some helpful tips, like sutras or codes, seeds to plant, that will ideally give rise to reflections on how to grow, nurture, and implement them? In many people’s experience, solutions to life’s varied problems are often simple to explain, but more difficult to carry out. However, where there is a will, there is a way, combined with prayer and a good support system.
Before I explain them in a little detail, let’s cut to the chase, by listing all four tips:
Tip 1: Be committed to personal growth work and the introspection it fosters in order to become the best person you can. Work on letting go of those parts of your conditioning that are unfavorable for having happy, healthy, and meaningful relationships. In short, “Know thyself,” or your strengths and weaknesses, and strive to improve for everyone's benefit.
Tip 2: As far as possible know your spouse’s nature, seeing the issues that come up between you as feedback about the individual and couple’s work that is required. “It takes two to tango,” so the more you know about yourself and your spouse, the better the “dance” of your relationship, provided you also practice the next tip, which could be thought of as dance lessons.
Tip 3: To be good or successful at anything requires study. Thus, make it a priority to study about healthy and unhealthy, stressful and joyful, relationships, and discover what you can do to change for the better.
Tip 4: Always remember that spiritual practice and sharing Krishna conscious together is the purpose of a marriage, and while this could have been the first tip, without the previous three, one will find it difficult to be successful and happy in a marriage. Consider these four tips like the four legs of a chair.
We live in a credit card world, and have the tendency to think we can purchase things when we don’t have the money to pay for them. Hearing that we can have a joyful, fulfilling, and spiritually oriented relationship sounds attractive, but every worthwhile goal takes desire, focused endeavor, perseverance, and grace to accomplish. I think this is especially true regarding improving marriages, a component of which is self-improvement. Self-improvement means to become the best person possible, realizing both our earthly and divine potential. This is a process that involves the difficult, though fascinating, work of introspection, and examining our conditioning.
We may think, “I am the way I am,” a response we sometimes hear in marriage counseling, but please consider this question: “Is it working?” This is why a crisis in our relationship can be a call for positive personal growth, and can change our life for the better—that is, if we don’t just blame the other person. We may easily see what is wrong with them, and yet, we have to take at least 50% responsibility for the success of, or problems with, the relationship. Being a couple obviously means two, and while both persons have to work to improve themselves, we can only change ourselves.
Though you may not be married yet, I am speaking in terms of marriage, since in the Vedic conception, this is a way to purify, and make sacred, our union, before God and humanity. The fact that in the West the institution of marriage is in serious trouble is another topic. Young people, seeing their own parents, and friends' parents, in troubled marriages, or going through a painful divorce, often are reluctant to make such a commitment. In spite of such reluctance, with the right preparation, and continuing support, it is possible to be happily married, for the long haul of a lifetime. Such retreats, and even this blog, can help us on our marriage journey.
This brings us to the first tip regarding a healthy, happy relationship: to have a good relationship with someone else requires having a good relationship with yourself, and becoming a balanced, vital, human being; and for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, becoming a practicing devotee of Krishna. The fact that we are spiritual beings having a human experience doesn’t mean we don’t strive for self-improvement, or personal growth. In the process of uncovering our soul in our endeavor to serve and love God, or Krishna, having a healthy, balanced psychology, and living primarily in the mode of goodness, is helpful.
Spiritual life, and even ordinary life in the material world, is about relationships with others. Therefore to sort out and make our conditioning favorable for our dealings with our spouse, Krishna’s devotees, and people in general is very important work. While this may seem common sense, it is often neglected, and can be one reason our spiritual life, and our relationships, may be stuck, in need of repair, or stagnated. I have spent 20 years of my life actively endeavoring for personal growth and improving my psychology, and I can attest how much it has helped my spiritual practices and connections with others. Actually, it is a lifelong pursuit—we can always improve. As I have often shared, spiritual practice and personal growth go well together, being an indispensable combination for most devotees.
Having a good relationship with our self includes understanding our nature as far as possible, and making personal and spiritual growth one of our top priorities. At the same time we have to understand our partner’s conditioned nature as well, which would be my second marriage tip. One of the important aspects of being in a relationship with someone else is that the combination often touches our emotional sensitivities, or unhealed psychic wounds from our past. In this way, our partner is like a living mirror, who reveals areas in our life that require attention. We are often upset with our spouse’s behavior, not so much due to their behavior itself, but due to their pushing our negative emotional buttons, usually unconsciously connected to some sensitivity, or defense mechanism, we developed growing up. Ideally, as part of our commitment to improving our relationship with one another, we will encourage each other in our personal growth work, seeing our individual balanced mental health as essential to our successful marriage, and to our spiritual lives. Relationship problems are one manifestation of our past karma, and how we deal with them—either learning our lessons or remaining stuck, or reacting or responding--is our future.
In addition to both persons being committed to personal growth work and accepting at least 50% responsibility for the marriage, we need to study everything we can about having a good relationship and marriage—the third tip—which is the work of the Grihastha Vision Team, and the purpose of this couples retreat. While it has become popular to say that it takes a village to raise a child, we could also say it takes a village, or at least a group of well-wishing family and friends, to ensure a successful and joyous marriage. We can also refer to this as a support system of peers and experienced elders, who have gone before us and teach by their example.
Last but not least in these tips, is that to have a successful Krishna conscious marriage, we have to be committed to making spiritual advancement, and sharing this endeavor together. As the common religious expression goes, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Spiritual life, or practices to help us understand that we are all eternal servants of Krishna, is essential for developing compassion to our self, spouse, and others. While we aren’t our conditioned story, we still have to work through it. Denying our conditioning in the name of spiritual advancement is a recipe for disaster. As I have often shared, “The way out is through,” and marriage, combined with spiritual practice, is a great way to retire our material desires and attachments, and practice selfless loving and giving, which is the basis of our relationship to Krishna. No one, or no thing, can make us happy, but we can uncover our natural blissful spiritual nature by devotional practices, and the grace from above. Going through the sacrifice of marriage in connection with bhakti, is a good way to do this for most devotees.