Relationships and Practice
by Ken McLeod
I find myself wanting to tell my partner that she is “easier to live with,” more “aware,” etc. when her practice is consistent. How can we support close friends, or a partner, who is also on a spiritual path?
In emotional connection relationships, you open to your partner and are with her when she is struggling or in pain, i.e., ecstasy and compassion are your primary ways of relating. This is what it means to love.
Opening means opening to be with her just as she is, without judgment. It doesn’t mean becoming dependent on her or going along with whatever she says. Those are both ways of avoiding the depth and complexities of a relationship with someone you love.
Similarly, being with her when she is in pain doesn’t mean taking control or just standing by helplessly. It means you are present with her, supporting her efforts, and helping her when she both needs and wants your help.
If she needs help, but doesn’t want it, your challenge is to be present with her in her struggles. If she wants your help, but doesn’t need it, and you give it anyway, you run the risk of creating a dependency dynamic that will undermine your relationship.
Now, about telling her that she is easier to live with when she is more aware, On the one hand, you see and experience directly the benefits of her practice and would like to support them. On the other hand, you put the relationship at risk.
Why? You are, in effect, telling her that you don’t love and accept her just as she is and that you want her to be different. She may not take kindly to that.
And you are edging toward a teacher role, a shift that can undermine your emotional connection with each other.
The teacher-student relationship is a shared aim relationship, the shared aim being the student’s spiritual growth. For this, the teacher uses insight to see into the student, and instructs the student accordingly. Being seen into is often uncomfortable for the student because the teacher is cutting into the student’s patterns. The student accepts the cutting because he or she trusts that the teacher has the student’s welfare in mind, not the teacher’s. If the teacher uses what he or she sees in the student for the teacher’s ends, the student experiences a shattering betrayal and the teacher-student relationship is often irreparably damaged.
In partner relationships, it’s a good idea to stay out of the teacher role. You are not your partner’s teacher and she is not yours. Your relationship is not based on insight, on seeing into each other. It’s based on love and compassion. If you try to teach her about practice, or what she should be doing, or how she should be doing it, she probably won’t take your advice kindly. Now and then, maybe, but not as an ongoing dynamic, because then you have stepped out of emotional connection and taken up a supposed shared aim where you are the teacher and an authority.
If there are difficulties in your interaction with each other, by all means bring them up and discuss them, but don’t refer to meditation practice or spiritual ideals. There you are invoking unassailable authorities and shutting down communication.
Discuss these issues as two people in a relationship, not as a teacher or student. Tell her about what you experience and how you experience your relationship. Don’t tell her what she should do or why you are right. And listen to her when she talks about her experience in your relationship.
To share your respective experiences and listen to each other, this is relating. This is what it means to be in a relationship. You are with each other in your struggles and both of you understand better the dynamics in your relationship. Then it’s up to each of you, individually, to make any changes to re-balance the interaction.