relationships

Forgiveness as a practice of compassion

A post-it note on a wooden desk, reading "sorry"

One of the emotional drivers of cruel and unkind behavior is resentment. Resentment is when we hold onto past hurt, locking ourselves into a pattern of blame. Unable to let go of the past we keep bringing up a memory of someone hurting us, betraying us, or failing to protect us. Every time we do so we experience the hurt anew. And every time we hurt ourselves we feel a renewed burst of ill will.

There’s something about this that I’d like to clear up, and that’s the misapprehension that we somehow store old emotions in the subconscious, from where they make appearances from time to time. This model dates back to Freud, at least, and is based on a model of emotion that we now know to be wrong. It’s a tempting view, however, especially given that we often, as I’ve described above, experience the hurt accompanying an old memory. But what’s actually happening, according both to Buddhist teachings on the mind and modern psychology, is that the feeling of hurt is being recreated over and over again, every time that the memory is triggered. Every time you feel the hurt, it’s a new hurt. Every time the hurt gives rise to anger or self-hatred, it’s a new emotion that you’re experiencing.

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We get trapped in cycles of resentment instinctively. It’s not exactly something we plan to do. It’s a habit we share with other animals. A favorite example of mine is crows, who develop resentment against researchers who have caged and banded them. They can maintain these attitudes—which involve scolding calls, accompanied by wing- and tail-flicking, and mobbing—for years. The signs of resentment they show spread through entire communities and can grow over time as new members of the community learn from others.

The example of the crows is a good reminder that we don’t choose to have resentment as part of our emotional make-up. It’s part of our genetic inheritance. And so it’s pointless and needlessly painful for us to blame ourselves for the mere fact of being prone to resentment.

We can also learn from the crows that resentment is about both punishment and protection. We want to punish those who have hurt us or those close to us. We want them to know they have done something unacceptable. The aim is to stop them from repeating the hurtful act. We’re trying to change their behavior. (Notice that we’re once more back to Punishment Culture.)

Resentment can be painful for those it’s directed at, but it’s certainly painful for us. In fact in many cases it causes us far more suffering than it causes the other person. There’s a saying in AA that resentment is like swallowing rat poison and waiting for the other person to die. A much older saying from the Buddhist tradition is that resentment is like picking up feces to throw it at another person; you might make them smell but the only person guaranteed to be punished is yourself.

These are useful reflections to bear in mind, because they help make resentment look less attractive. When we catch ourselves in the midst of resentful reactivity, we can help weaken the emotion by reminding ourselves of its consequences.

Forgiveness is the opposite of resentment. Forgiveness is a willingness to let go of ill will. And we can do this both because we want to stop hurting another person and because we want to stop hurting ourselves.

It can hard for us to forgive because we think that to keep ourselves safe we have to keep reminding the other person that they have transgressed so that they don’t do it again, and we have to keep reminding ourselves that this person has the capacity to hurt or harm us. For the first part of that we maybe need to ask ourselves, how much punishment is enough if we want the other person to know we’re upset that they hurt us? Do they already know? If not, will they ever? What would you need from them in order to be sure? Might you have already received it? Or received as much as you’re going to get? Is maintaining the resentment worth the pain you’re causing yourself?

It’s good to remember that you don’t need ill will to protect yourself from another person. If they have the potential to hurt you, you can simply know that, and be on the look-out for signs that they might do so. You can keep your guard up (if that’s needed) without hatred or resentment, simply by knowing. You can trust yourself on this.

However you don’t have to trust the other person. if they’re untrustworthy, remember that. Don’t give them your trust. Resentment doesn’t need to be involved.

Having talked about untrustworthy people who want to hurt or harm us, in my experience a lot of resentment is against people who have no ongoing desire to do us wrong. They may even be people we love and who love us. Especially in those cases, since loving relationships are so precious, I suggest being quick to forgive.

The self-compassion practices I’ve outlined are ideal for helping us let go of resentments:

  1. Recognize you’re causing yourself suffering.
  2. Drop the resentful story.
  3. Drop down into the body, find your pain, and accept it.
  4. Offer compassion and reassurance to the suffering part of you.

In this way you help heal the unhealed hurt, so that it ceases to ask, over and over again, to be protected by your ill will — a form of protection that can never truly protect you. Self-compassion gives our hurt the protection ill-will promises but can never deliver.

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Dealing with the pain of change

leaves changing

The other day one of my meditation students wrote, asking for some advice. She was having to downsize and move into a smaller apartment. And this meant that she couldn’t hold on to some of her family heirlooms, like her mother’s wedding china. It also meant that her teenage son wouldn’t be able to continue living with her. That last part was particularly painful.

So I wrote the following in response:

Dear X.

It is hard to let go of things, and to have relationships change, so I can appreciate why you’re suffering.

The changes you’re going through are unique to you, even if others have been through similar experiences, so I offer the following only as things you might take as a starting point for your own reflections.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to about the move? It might be that you can focus on things like creating more of a sense of simplicity in your life, or creating a new space around you that supports aspirations you may have. If there are things you can look forward to, then focusing on those might help shift your perspective about the move… (continued below)

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Ironically, I find myself with too much “stuff” at the moment. When Teresa and I moved in together, we ended up with duplicate furniture. Some we got rid of, but we ended up with two dining tables and no room for either of them, and so they’re in storage in our basement. I look in the basement and see all of this clutter, and I sometimes think that if it all disappeared one day I probably wouldn’t notice for weeks, since I hardly ever have a reason to go down there, and that if I did happen to walk into an empty basement I’d feel free! So really we should get rid of all that stuff, but unless we were moving again there’s really no motivation to do so.

Anyway, I do like to think of the freedom and lightness that comes from not being burdened by things I have but don’t use. I don’t know if that’s something that you could also embrace.

I sometimes also think about the fact that one day I’m going to die, and that, as they say, you can’t take it with you. Who would have your mother’s wedding china once you’ve passed away? If there’s no one obvious who would take it, then you might think about what the difference is between giving it away now and it being given away once you’re dead. Advantages to passing it on now (even to strangers) would be that you’d know someone else was enjoying it, that you’d given them this gift, and that you’d be in control of where it goes. Once you die, none of those things would be possible.

With regard to your son, I wonder if you could think of sending him out into the world as a man? Is there some way you could build up to ritually or ceremonially marking and celebrating this transition in his life? I can imagine, for example, that it would be lovely to create a book of wisdom teachings (maybe accompanied by photographs of the two of you) that could guide him as he goes into the world and remain as a tangible record of his transition. Something like that might give you a positive focus that mitigates the suffering of the change.

As I said, I’m just throwing some ideas out there. I’d be really fascinated to hear what you come up with yourself.

What has helped you get through painful periods of change? Why not share in the comments below.

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Seven ways meditation can help you be a better lover

woman holding a stick against a singing bowl

Although Buddhist meditation was originally practiced mostly by celibate monks and nuns, who were not only forbidden from having sex but even from having physical contact with the opposite sex, mindfulness practice can significantly enhance your love life. And by “love life” I don’t mean just sex, but your entire life with someone you’re emotionally and physically intimate with. But sex too!

Mindfulness Helps You Be Present for Your Partner

First, being mindful helps us to be present for our partner. So much of the time when we’re with another person, we’re not really there. Nowadays it’s common to see couples sitting together in a cafe, but focused on their phones. A modern prayer for couples might be along the lines of, “Lord, let my partner look at me with the same intensity they look at their phone.”

Simply being present and available for each other is essential for any kind of true intimacy to take place.

Mindfulness Helps You to Really Listen

And then there’s actually listening to each other. You know how you spend a lot of time in a conversation not paying attention to the other person because you’re busy thinking about what you’re going to say? Mindfulness can help us to recognize that we’re getting distracted and to come back to the present moment. When we do this, we’re able to communicate from a place of greater depth and authenticity.

Mindfulness Helps You to Avoid Judging

It’s very easy for us to put labels on our partner. We slip into the habit of labelling them “stubborn,” or “over-sensitive,” or “selfish.” These labels become mental traps for us, becoming triggers for our own reactions and preventing us from really connecting. Mindfulness helps us to see that our labels are unhelpful stories, and so rather than reacting to our own labelling (“There he/she goes again!”) we can stay in the moment and connect more authentically.

Mindfulness Puts You in Touch With Your Feelings

Mindfulness helps us to stay in touch with our bodies, and since our feelings are physical sensations taking place in the body, being mindful means that we’re more in touch with how we feel. One study showed that meditators were more in touch with physical sensations in the body than professional dancers.

One thing in particular is helpful here; many of the most important feelings associated with love are carried by the vagus nerve, which runs right past the heart. That’s why you experience heartache when your sweetie is away, and why you experience warm feelings of tenderness in the heart when you’re gazing into their eyes. Our ability to notice these feelings increases through practicing mindfulness. Also, the vagus nerve becomes more active (develops more “vagal tone”) when we practice lovingkindness or compassion meditation, and so the strength of those feelings actually increases.

Mindfulness Puts You More In Touch With Your Partner’s Feelings

Being mindful and paying attention to your partner, rather than to what you’re thinking about, helps you be more attentive. You are then better able to notice tiny “micro-expressions” that flit across the face in a fraction of a second. These micro-expressions are involuntary, and so they show what we’re really feeling, as opposed to what we want others to think we’re feeling.

In the context of a loving relationship the ability to pick up on underlying emotions allows you to be more empathetic.  Say you’re planning a trip and your partner says, “Sure, that would be lovely.” But you notice a flash of doubts or hesitation. When you pick up on those, you can ask “Are you sure you’re OK with this? You look like you might have reservations.” This gives your partner the opportunity to express their feelings more fully, and the empathy you’re expressing can help bring you together.

Mindfulness Makes You More Loving

Lovingkindness, or as I prefer to call it, simply “kindness,” sees that other people, just like us, want to be happy and don’t want to suffer. When we’re kind, we recognize that others’ feelings are as real and important to them as ours are to us. This means that we are more likely to to act in ways that respect their feelings.

Sadly, we often forget to be kind in our intimate relationships, and engage in unkind and disrespectful behaviors such as belittling, sarcasm, and criticism. Lovingkindness practice helps us to see such ways of acting as inappropriate and harmful, and helps us to relate instead in ways that help our partner to feel loved, supported, and appreciated.

Mindfulness Makes Sex Hotter

Lastly, the sum total of everything I’ve said so far, including our being more in the moment, more attentive, more aware of the body, more in touch with our own and our partner’s feelings, and kinder and more empathetic, helps us to have much better sex.

One study showed that women who were taught mindfulness became significantly more aware of their own physiological sexual responses and experienced them as more arousing than women in a control group.

If you’ve found this interesting you might want to register for our online course, The Path of Mindful Relationships: Exploring Romantic Love as a Spiritual Practice.

In short, if you want to have a better relationship, meditate!

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Meditation brought us back together, say couple who traded in corporate lives to meditate

Sarah Catherall, Stuff: They gave the impression of having it all but Sally Lewis and Greg Hopkinson were stressed and cynical. When they broke up, they felt as though something was missing, both in their lives and in their relationship.

Today, they radiate happiness, frequently breaking into laughter. Lewis reaches over and touches her partner’s arm lovingly as her face beams.

Sitting in a Wellington cafe, they attribute one thing to their joyous connection. “Meditation saved our relationship,” smiles 57-year-old Lewis.

A decade ago, Hopkinson was a stressed out businessman who ran the Animates pet store …

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The Dharma of intimate relationships

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This was the first email in a Wildmind course called “The Conscious Couple.”

Our intimate relationships are a vital area for practice. Each day, each moment, they offer us fresh opportunities to practice kindness, love, and compassion. They give us practice in forgiving and asking for forgiveness. They allow us to cultivate honesty and to become more skillful in our communication. They provide us with opportunities to give and to receive and to learn about ourselves and our partner.

Intimate relationships challenge us. They unerringly find our emotional weak spots, highlighting our insecurities and failings in ways that can cause great discomfort. Yet this too is spiritually beneficial; how else can we change, but by bringing into conscious awareness that which needs transformation?

Our intimate relationships can also be a source of aspiration and inspiration. The desire to live in love and harmony with another person, to know them deeply and to let ourselves be known, can give us a positive motivation to change and to become better partners, better lovers, better people.

Many people are aware that the Buddha described intimate relationships, and the desire for them, as one of the main distractions in the spiritual life! Fewer know that at the same time he often applauded lay practitioners for the depth of spiritual practice they manifested.

The Buddha praised married couples who practiced and lived harmoniously together, saying that they were living a divine life. We’re told, in fact, that many, many householders attained various degrees of awakening, showing that family life is hardly an insurmountable obstacle to spiritual progress.

There is no contradiction between the Buddha’s emphasis on relationships both as a hindrance and as a practice. The spiritual community had a monastic wing, which practiced simplicity of lifestyle (no work, no kids, no marriage) in order to focus intensely on meditation, study, and teaching. Monastics were therefore required to regard romantic and sexual entanglements as distractions. But there was also a householder wing of the community, consisting of people who worked for a living, who married, and who brought up children — and whose members could, as we’ve seen, be practicing deeply.

The purpose of this 28-day online course is to help us explore the ways in which our intimate and romantic relationships provide opportunities for us to deepen our practice, and how our practice can in turn help us deepen the intimacy we experience with our partners.

There are many different approaches we could have taken to structure this course. We could have had no structure, and just sent you a number of reflections! But we’ve settled on the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, since it’s one of the most important frameworks for exploring how to bring practice into daily life. In each post you’ll see a “map” of the Eightfold Path, with the current phase highlighted.

In the next email we’ll start with the cultivation of Right View, which involves looking at the ideas, opinions, assumptions, and models we use in regard to our relationships. In fact we’ve already begun with this exploration, since we’ve been discussing views about the relationship between married life and the spiritual life.

Cultivating right view means bringing our views into line with the Dharma. But this doesn’t mean blind conformity! It simply means that sometimes we have views that hinder the development of love, intimacy, and honesty. We may not be conscious of those views, or it may be that we don’t see the harmful effects they have. (We humans have a perplexing ability to keep doing things we are sure will make our lives better, when actually they cause harm.) Our views have to be brought into consciousness if we’re to avoid causing suffering to ourselves and to our partner. And we need to nurture views that lead to a deeper and more harmonious connection with ourselves and with the person most dear to us. We need views that allow us to be part of a conscious, thriving couple.

Homework: For the next 24 hours, just notice your interactions with your partner (or in other relationships), without trying to fix anything. Notice in particular times that you interact in a way that you perceive as kind or loving, and times that those qualities are absent. As best you can, make these observations without judgement: that is, don’t engage in self-criticism or ruminate about your interactions. Feel free to make notes, and to discuss your observations in the online community we’ve created to accompany this course.

Guided meditation: This brief guided mindfulness meditation can be done with a partner, or on your own.

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Mindful eating with the “Sati Tala” — so sane it seems crazy

sati tala

The other day I got an email from a couple in Israel who are launching a new mindfulness product. It’s one of those things that is possibly just crazy enough (or sane enough — I can’t tell) to really take off.

Basically, it’s a tool for mindful eating. What’s the tool? Well, you are, along with one other person, the Sati Tala eating surface, and two simple seats. What this means is that you and your eating partner become part of the table as you sit on the seats and rest the surface of the Sati Tala on the laps. (Sati Tala is Pali for “mindfulness surface.”)

What this means is that you’re physically connected as you eat, which seems rather lovely and even romantic. It’s also more difficult to jump up and start doing something else, since doing so requires the cooperation of both people. And so you’re more likely to stay put and just focus on your meal.

On the other hand, if you do have to get up (to answer the door or a call of nature) dinner’s pretty much over until you return, and I can imagine that if you have a fidgety partner things could get ugly.

Still, this is the kind of thing I can imagine becoming a crazy amongst Hollywood celebrities!

Tany and Sagie, who came up with the idea, are launching a Kickstarter fundraiser, which you can read about on their website.

There’s also a video where you can see the Sati Tala in action:

P.S. I haven’t tried this product, have no connection with the company, and don’t benefit in any way by bringing it to your attention!

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Kill the Soulmate

Cheryl Fraser, Mindful.org: Our brains can’t help but compare the imperfect human snoring beside us to the ideal hunk in our heads. But around the corner there isn’t someone better—only someone different.

Shaun Cassidy, teen singing idol and one of TV’s sexy Hardy Boys, was my soulmate. There I was clad in the kilt and knee socks of a private school girl, lusting over this blue-eyed heartthrob and completely convinced we would fall in love. He …

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Three ways meditation improves relationships – backed by science

wildmind meditation news

Emma M. Seppälä, Psychology Today: Meditation can seem like a lonely activity, even a slightly selfish one —after all, you’re doing something, on your own, for yourself – or so it seems. Even if you’re meditating in a group, your eyes are closed and you’re focused on yourself. Doesn’t seem like something that would improve your relationships. But research shows it does. Here’s how.

1) It Curbs Your Stress & Gives You Perspective

Most people experience stress during the day. Worse yet, they bring their stress home. As a consequence, their partner gets the brunt of it: a short fuse, bad moods, lack of affection. Over time, this kind of pattern can create distance between partners. By helping you regulate your emotions (like stress or anger), meditation can help you keep a positive perspective. What we found in research with a population that has a tremendous amount of stress—veterans returning from war—is that by using a simple breathing-based meditation (sudarshan kriya), anxiety and stress reduced tremendously. If you can take responsibility for curbing your stress through meditation, you’re also taking a big step towards preserving and honoring your relationship.

A really strong reason to meditate is its impact on your perspective. You’re more likely to see the big picture rather than sweating the small stuff – as a result, you feel more grateful for what you. Gratitude is a powerful predictor of long-term love. Research shows us that, over time, we get used to the things we have and people we are with and can start to take them for granted. That’s the point where people may start to focus on what’s wrong with their partner or forget why they fell in love in the first place. Grateful people are more satisfied in their relationships and feel closer to one another. When you are grateful, you stay focused and appreciative of your partner’s good qualities. Your partner, in turn, feels appreciated, and your bond strengthens…

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How to be the world’s best soulmate

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Nanci Besser, Fulfillment Daily

The Challenge: Everyone wants to find their soulmate, but how can we be that for someone else?The Science: Surprisingly, empathy and kindness toward yourself is the key to being a wonderful partner.
The Solution: Here are 3 steps to becoming AND finding the perfect soulmate.
Everyone wants a soulmate. Yet what does it take to be a perfect partner to that soulmate? A research study shows us the secret to being a wonderful soulmate, and it’s something most of us have never heard of: self-compassion.

Everything comes in 3’s

At this point in your existing or budding relationship you probably know the crucial basics about one another: Human? –Check; Approximate age/height? –Check, check; Occupation? –Check; Do you practice self-compassion in your life? ? -Uh, no…why on Earth would that matter?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

Practicing self-compassion might be a strong indicator of the presence or absence of empathy in an individual. (Block-Lerner et al., 2007; Morgan & Morgan, 2005) Empathy is the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person. Empathy is what we are all seeking from our relationship partner: the space to be who we are without judgment.

The good news: it is never too late to add more self-compassion into your life. If you want to have the ideal, empathic partner, be the ideal, empathic partner first by practicing self-compassion daily.

Here are three secret steps to add self-compassion practices into your everyday life:

Step 1: Look Within

Noted psychologist, Dr. Kristin Neff defines self-compassion as (Neff, 2003)

Looking without resistance at one’s own discomfort, experiencing kindness and caring toward      oneself, applying a gentle, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s shortcomings, and acknowledging      that one’s experience is part of the human experience (p. 224).

Beginning the journey to self-compassion within our mind shifts our perceptions of the outside world. A great way to start the journey is to journal. Journaling is not a novel concept, but journaling without judgment may be for you. Write about your day, listing your interactions with others as facts without interpretations.

Do not restrict yourself expressing your feelings, but resist criticizing or judging your choices. This is not a “bliss ninny” approach, but be patient with your observations. If we look at an issue or seeming problem with kindness and without denial, it is much easier to see the options for transcending the dilemma.

Step 2: Forgive

The next step is to make an honest inventory of the choices you wish you could do-over. Like the first step, the goal here is not to create an infinite well of guilt. Rather, illuminate any self-judgments, stopping them from festering and accumulating in your mind.

In your journal, list alternate actions for each situation. Then, choose one alternate action that speaks to your heart. Now, tell yourself you did the best you could and forgive yourself for the mistaken choice.

Next, close your eyes and envision the moment before you chose your past action that you wish to change.

Then, take a deep, cleansing breath and insert the alternate action you chose before into your vision, allowing yourself to experience a different outcome based upon your different choice.

Tell yourself that each exhale releases the guilt you felt and each inhale allows you to choose being present. Sit still and allow your mind to quiet and countdown from three to one, and then open your eyes.

Step 3: Extend

Projecting your anger and resentment upon others is an inability to forgive yourself. What we choose not to look upon within us, we often cast out upon others, usually to those closest to us.

After completing step two above, you are ready to share your kindness and forgiveness with others through extension of your time and service. Search your heart and soul for a philanthropic activity or cause that speaks to you.

Or, if time is limited, do your best to smile at everyone your eyes meet for one day. There is always time to be kind and to share the compassion you experience within with others at any moment and at anyplace.

Happily Ever After

Incorporating these three secret steps into your daily life changes your perceptions of the outside world. This is the ideal stage to meet your potential soulmate or to enrich your present relationship with the empathy developed through self-compassion. You will be what you are looking for from another. Combining two self-compassionate/empathic soulmates may be greater than the sum of your individual selves. Figuratively, 1+1 may equal 3. What more could you possibly want?

Resources:

  • Block-Lerner, J., Adair, C., Plumb, J. C., Rhatigan, D. L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2007). The case for mindfulness-based approaches in the cultivation of empathy: Does nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness increase capacity for perspective-taking and empathic concern? Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 33 (4), 501– 516.
  • Morgan, W. D., & Morgan, S. T. (2005). Cultivating attention and empathy. In Germer, C. K., Siegel, R. D., & Fulton, P. R. (Eds.), Mindfulness and psychotherapy (pp. 73-90). New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self- compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223-250.

Original article no longer available

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Attachment in intimate relationships

For as long as I’ve been practicing Buddhism, people have been talking about attachment in intimate relationships in a particular way; they’ve talked about the problem as being attachment to the other person.

To be sure, attachment to another person can be a source of pain. When you’re first in love with someone you may find that you make yourself miserable wanting to be with the other person. When they’re unavailable or you’re not sure they’re attracted to you, then this can be agonizing.

In an established relationship, when there’s insecurity along with your attachment you might be jealous of them spending time with others, or fearful that they don’t love you as much as you love them. Those things are painful as well.

Attachment to another person can be such that we fear them changing, because we sense that they’re turning into a different person, and that’s perceived as a threat to our relationship.

And you might just miss the other person when they’re away, although I think most couples healthily appreciate having some time apart.

Those forms of attachment to another person are talked about often, and for many years that limited the way I looked at attachment in intimate relationships. Recently, though, I’ve come to think that a far more important problem with attachment is that which we have to our own habits. Self-clinging is the principal problem we face.

For example, if you’re constantly criticizing a partner because they don’t do things the way you want them to be done, what’s really going on is that you’re attached to having certain things happen in a certain way — and you’re attached to criticism as a communication style. If that’s ongoing and outweighs the positive aspects of the relationship, then you’re going to cause suffering. So the question comes up, are you prepared to be flexible in your own habits? It’s not just a question of putting up with socks on the bedroom floor, or hairs in the shower drain, but of learning new ways of communicating about such things. Can you learn to be more playful, for example, or to use praise and affection as a way of encouraging your partner to change — or are you attached to using criticism?

Wanting to be right all the time is another form of attachment. When this happens we’re attached to a particular kind of “status” (being “the one who is right”), assuming that it’ll bring us happiness. The trouble is that if you’re attached to being right all the time, you’re going to be rigid and unempathetic, and be in an unhappy relationship. Humility and empathy are qualities that are much more likely to lead to a harmonious relationship. So can you let go of your attachment to winning arguments and being right? Can you embrace the need to admit your faults? Can you embrace vulnerability? Vulnerability is an open space in which growth can take place.

Avoiding conflict is another deadly problem in relationships that we can be attached to. We assume that if we ignore a problem it’ll go away. Well, any one particular problem might go away, but it’ll be replaced by a dozen more. Courage requires letting go of the habit of conflict-avoidance.

Grudges are another thing we can get attached to. We get attached to being the victim. This kind of attachment has been described as like grasping a red-hot coal with the intention of throwing it at the other person. Who gets hurt most in that scenario? Forgiveness is a form of letting go of this particular attachment.

These are just a few examples of how being attached to habits can cause suffering in relationships. But any relationship problem I can think of involves attachment of this nature: being attached to drama, being dishonest, ignoring your partner because you’re focused on work or recreation, letting your sexual desire (or the lack of it) conflict with your partner’s well-being—and thus the well-being of your relationship. These all involve self-clinging.

The measure of how deep our self-clinging can be is how painful and how difficult it is to become aware of, never mind change, our habits. It’s painful to admit when we’re at fault, to communicate honestly and courageously, and to forgive. We can put a lot of energy into resisting doing these things, and when we do face up to our habits we can feel raw, exposed, and humiliated.

While attachment to our partners can be a very real thing, it’s attachment to ourselves and our habits that I see as the most destructive force in intimate relationships.

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