Our culture specializes in compartmentalization. In medicine, for instance, we have cardiologists, dermatologists, orthopedists and so on.
We do this vis-à-vis our relationships, too. We tend to think of them as distinct from the rest of our lives, but this is only partly true. Our relationship strategies are a subset of our life strategies. By and large, we’re as successful at our relationships as we are at life.
I’m not talking about the external trappings of success—the rich or gorgeous partner, the fancy home, the luxury car. I’m referring to our wisdom path. If we’re wise in life generally, we’ll be wise in our intimate life, too. If we’re self-defeating in life, we’ll stumble in our relationships as well.
I’ve got a specific wisdom strategy in mind here. We all tend to kvetch about things. That guy who cut me off on the highway earlier, my partner’s really irritating habit of interrupting me, those damn Washington politicians, and so on ... and on ... and on.
I’m not suggesting these things aren’t actually annoying. We don’t have to voice our irritation, though. When we express our unhappiness, we create a climate of negativity, grouse by grouse—and clouds are less pleasurable than sunshine.
There’s a second downside to this habit. Once we start giving voice to our negative feelings, we tend to complain about our partner, too, often to their face. It’s an unhappy habit that carries over from that aggressive driver and those stupid politicians to the person we love more than anyone else in the world. And this, predictably, drives a wedge between you two and creates undesired distance—or worse.
The solution? Practice positivity, not just in your relationship but throughout your life. Choose to walk the sunny side of the street. When that driver cuts you off, if you must comment, go for something compassionate. He’s not a jerk, he must be having a bad day. And when your partner interrupts you again, don’t blurt out, “Why must you always cut me off?” Instead, try something like “Love, may I finish my thought, please?” Not only is it kinder, but it’s also likelier to get you what you want.
The simple (and cosmic) reality is that there are two archetypal forces in the world— love and fear, which our psyches interpret as light and dark. We have it in our power to choose love and light, and to do so over and over again. Doing this can certainly be challenging. Sometimes it can feel almost impossible. It can be done, though, no matter how difficult the circumstances—and this, in fact, is what all the great sages teach.
To the extent that we succeed at doing this in the intimate sphere, we bring love and light into our relationship.
I’m not counseling denial here. There is evil and ugliness all around us. Fear, anger and rage are real and totally understandable emotions. Still, we can choose love without wearing blinders. How? By going into our heart and choosing compassion and understanding over anger and fear. By choosing what we say and how we say it. By taking it one choice at a time.