Practicing yoga has helped me realize that everything is connected. By sharing our own experiences and by being transparent - we can learn and gain wisdom from one another.
Today, my husband and I are celebrating our 14th anniversary. I believe that we are more genuinely in love today, than we were the day we got married.
I have seen so many failed relationships over the years, so many marriages that ended up in infidelity or divorce - and it truly breaks my heart. It is heartbreaking as a society, to witness couples that were so in love at one point... to attend beautiful weddings filled with joy, hope and promises of happily-ever-afters, in sickness and in health- only to watch them have a 50% chance (or higher), of crashing and burning. It can be quite depressing, when you think about it... that statistically, a couple’s chances of staying together is no better than a flip of a coin. That doesn’t even take into consideration all of the unhappy marriages that choose not to split for various reasons... so they succumb to a life of feeling miserable and trapped.
What’s the point? If we believe that the purpose of life is to be happy... then why would we risk getting married, when the odds of a successful and happy long-term marriage seem so low? We all want to believe that ours will beat the odds. But how many of us are actually willing to put in the work?
By no means do I consider myself an “expert” on anything... but I believe that life has taught me a thing or two about how to stay happily married, and it takes much more than just a stroke of good luck. For those of you who are interested- Here are 5 lessons that I’ve learned over the past 14 years:
1. Invest Wisely
Like all relationships, marriage is an investment. It’s arguably one of the biggest investments we will make in our lifetime. First, we must determine what exactly we are investing in. Are we able to differentiate the superficial from the substantial? Are we investing in a kind heart and compassionate soul? Someone who helps bring out the best qualities in us? Perhaps it’s financial security, social status, education/ intelligence, or to win our family’s approval? Or are we investing in someone who’s hot, fun and exciting, and we want to have cute babies with them?
Don’t get me wrong... financial security, attractiveness and excitement can be important aspects of a relationship too- but are they enough on their own, to make a marriage stand the test of time?
Only we can decide what our priorities are. And superficial priorities usually lead to superficial relationships.
2. We Reap What We Sow
All investments come at a cost- and the more you put in, the greater (ideally) the return should be. If we continue being friends with people who constantly make us feel bad, are unappreciative and controlling- that says more about us than it says about our friends. Why are we investing in people who aren’t willing to invest in us?
Here’s the thing:
Love and value yourself first and foremost. You don’t need to find your “better half”, because you are already whole and complete.
Our insecurities can attract people who are also insecure, and some people like to feed their own egos by trying to make others feel inferior.
If you find yourself investing in a relationship with little to no return, it’s time to do some serious evaluation. If we don’t value ourselves, how can we expect others to value us? Our ideal partner should be an enhancement in our life.
When you pick up any Hallmark card about love, you will notice a constant theme:
“You accept me as I am.”
“I feel comfortable around you.”
“We have fun together.”
”You don’t judge me for my flaws.”
“I can relax and be myself with you.”
“You help me be a better person”... etc.
(Translation: I love you because you provide unconditional love, support and acceptance).
We all want the same things out of relationships, whether it’s a spouse, a parent or a friend. But are we able to BE those things? Can we love wholeheartedly, without judgement or egotistical ulterior motives? Can we be honest with ourselves?
If we can find the strength to live authentically and be open-minded and non-judgmental, our relationships will become more authentic and accepting as well.
3. Learn Each Other’s “Love Language”
We are a sum of our experiences, and we respond (or react) to life the only way we know how. But not everyone sees the world through the same eyes as we do. And not everyone loves and/or feels loved by the same actions. Whether or not you read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, at the very least google it and learn what they are. My love language is “Acts of Service”. My husband’s is “Quality Time” and “Physical Touch”. The fact that I require frequent moments of solitude daily can be difficult for my husband to understand, and has led to many misunderstandings in the past. It took us a while to realize our different love languages, and the fact that one is no greater than the other. When we can be mindful and pay attention to our partner’s needs by learning his/her love language- (even if it seems foreign or unnatural to us)- our partner will be more likely and willing to want to reciprocate. One cannot give from an empty cup. Ideally we can figure out how to fill our own cups, without depending on others (that takes me back to lesson #2)... but healthy and balanced relationships are an important part of life. And if we can help others fill their cups (purely out of love and without attachment to expectations) - they will more likely become one of the sources that can help us refill our cup too. But if we feel like our spouse is better at taking from our cup, rather than refilling, then perhaps it’s time to sit down and have a (non-accusatory) talk.
The broader lesson - Compassionate communication is Key.
4. Cultivate Mental Strength
This is one of the biggest relationship lessons I’ve acquired through yoga. We are only as strong as our minds. And that includes our relationships. Yoga teaches us to cultivate inner peace and clarity, despite our external circumstances. When it comes to life, we usually react from moment to moment without really thinking about the consequences of our actions and words. Our ego is very good at protecting itself through the emotions of anger, fear, jealousy, resentment, dissatisfaction and self-victimization. Once we can become aware of that fact, we can begin to intelligently respond to life, instead of emotionally react. Those negative feelings represent something much deeper... and if someone is hateful, angry or resentful, it’s a signal of some type of inner conflict or feelings of unfulfillment.
Speaking of dissatisfaction - let’s talk about infidelity. Everyone has heard the saying “The grass is greener on the other side”. My favorite counters to that, are “the grass is greener where you water it”, or “I’m too busy watering my own grass to notice how green yours is.”
It’s our human nature to have hope and a constant desire for attainment. Perhaps it’s a survival instinct, but our species clearly has a difficult time staying content and feeling grateful for very long... and eventually, our minds are distracted by the search for something more- whether it’s more money, a bigger house, a better car, a higher status, a better body or a more passionate relationship. We are constantly trying to fill a void deep within us, so that we can feel alive and fulfilled once again.
The secret is to realize that we can never find lasting fulfillment from external sources. And that awareness can only come from the inside.
So going back to infidelity - this is how I see it: If ”John” is trying to diet and be healthy, but his greatest weakness is chocolate cake - he can either try his best to avoid chocolate cake, hide from it, look the other way and pretend it’s not there. And if he ends up cheating on his diet, he may avoid taking responsibility by blaming other people, and accuse them for serving chocolate cake in his presence. Or, he may try to justify it by saying it was just one bite or one slice...
But what good would that do? It still doesn’t change the fact that John gave into temptation, and now he will have to live with the consequences.
The same example can be used for any addiction, whether it’s smoking, drinking, drugs or sex. Wouldn’t it be better if we could learn how to control our impulses, instead of trying to constantly control our environment?
Society teaches us to avoid the chocolate cake, or maybe even blame the chocolate cake itself and all those who partake in baking it, sharing it and/or eating it.
Yoga teaches us how to take accountability for our actions, and cultivate mental strength, clarity, and equanimity - so that even if we get stuck in a bakery full of chocolate cakes, we are wise enough to make the right decision, without regret.
5. Prioritize Your Marriage
Above all else. The only exception would be your own happiness, but if prioritizing your marriage means to sacrifice your own happiness- then there are obviously much bigger issues that need to be addressed.
Of course we have kids and jobs and other responsibilities in life... but in order to have a healthy and fulfilling marriage, it is vital to invest time in the relationship. Go on regular date nights. Do the things you used to do in the beginning of your relationship. Take care of yourself. Carve out time at the end of every day, to talk, listen, cuddle and reconnect. Make sure your partner is happy and his or her needs are being met... and if needs are not being met, figure out how to do things differently so that they are met. Fighting is inevitable, and sometimes we go to bed angry... and that’s ok. Fighting is a form of communication (albeit, not the most desirable form), but as long as we are willing to communicate and listen, and as long as our love keeps our pride in check - that’s all that really matters.
Who knows what’s in store for our future. Nothing is promised or guaranteed in life.... but I believe that our marriage has been successful because we have chosen to be appreciative, supportive and grateful- despite any challenges we’ve had to face and overcome.
May we ALL achieve the ability to feel gratitude and fulfillment despite our circumstances, and may we cultivate loving and authentic relationships that help us become the best versions of ourselves.