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All humans crave connection. Relationships are fundamental to our existence. Being able to get along with colleagues, neighbors, and even the person on the mat next to yours in class can make or break your day. When you can’t relate to others, you live in loneliness, separation, disconnection, and fear. When you learn how to connect with others, you feel empowered, grounded, and safe.
That’s especially true in romantic relationships. My husband Eric and I have been together for eight years, and like any couple, we have our challenges: We have difficult conversations about our children and blended family dynamics. We have disagreements about what our roles are in our online yoga studio, ER Yoga.
If you observe your own relationships carefully, you’ll find that they are predominantly driven by your emotions: You’re happy when someone behaves the way you want them to and disappointed when they don’t. Your emotions run the show, and since emotions are volatile and ever changing, your relationships are then volatile and ever changing. The only way to keep a relationship running smoothly is by pitching up a higher ideal—deciding what values are most important to you, then aligning your thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and actions toward them.
How to find your higher values
Your higher values are like an inner GPS; they help you stay on your path toward inner greatness. When you are aligned with them, they keep you from getting sidetracked by the nonessentials—the things we believe are important for peace and happiness in a relationship, but are usually just focal points of conflict and disappointment.
Eric and I embed the ancient teachings of yoga from Vedanta into our relationship, so our higher values include a sense of service, self-sufficiency, loving communication, and acceptance. We study together every morning, we introspect every night, we travel together to meet with our teacher—all things that remind us that we choose the spirit of our relationship first.
Partners often end relationships over being right; being right often turns out to be very wrong. Focusing on the nonessentials—like whose turn it is to clean the dishes or make the bed—leads to passive-aggressive communication, bickering, belittling, and other behaviors that can stress your relationship.
The four ideas below will help you hone your higher vision—and can help your relationships thrive.
Leave your ego at the door
As part of our work, Eric and I lead retreats and trainings together. These take in-depth preparation, strategy, and communication. Our workloads leading up to these experiences aren’t always the same, and there have been times that I’ve gotten frustrated with him (and vice versa) because I’m only focused on my to-do list, and forgetting to honor his contributions.
There’s a saying; “When shall I be free? When the ‘I’ ceases to be.” The “I” in that adage is, of course, the ego.
Ego has little to do with vanity and everything to do with thinking about ourselves entirely too much. Your ego is what makes you take things personally. Take the ego away and you take away being bothered by hurt, arguments, disrespect, and the host of other complaints you believe that you feel. Lessening the ego’s pull can take the sting out of any conflict in your relationship because it allows you to see that the other person’s reaction is only a projection of themselves; not a personal attack.
When I moved to Los Angeles from Miami I had a hard time making friends. I started to blame Eric for my loneliness. But that wasn’t fair: I chose to move out there. I had no one else to blame but myself. I had to hold myself accountable in order to move forward. So I started taking improv classes and putting myself out there.
Pointing fingers and being a victim will only create misery, stress, and disconnection. Everything and everyone that is in your life right now is because of you. Taking responsibility for your life and relationships will help you grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially.
When Eric and I started living together, I noticed some behaviors I didn’t understand. For example, while I was having a conversation with him he would get distracted and do something else, but then five minutes later, he could have a conversation for hours on the phone about one topic with one person. How could he do one and not the other? I started to take it personally, which affected how I responded to him. I would raise my voice or grill him with questions because I thought he was ignoring me and disrespecting me.
It wasn’t until Eric explained that he had severe ADD that I understood that he wasn’t intentionally trying to irritate and annoy me. His daily dynamic was just different from mine. I was able to embrace his behavior with compassion instead of resentment. His vulnerability encouraged me to be vulnerable, too—which helped us grow together.
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason: We should listen twice as much as we talk. Truly listening to someone else’s feelings and needs can provide answers as to how you can help your relationship grow.
Accept others’ nature
Eric and I have an affirmation that we say when we’re struggling to accept the other person as they are: “what a beautiful mess.”
Why is it so difficult to accept people as they are? Because everyone has their own nature and it’s not like yours! People will be who they are, not who you’d like them to be. This is the law of the land and it works beautifully until… You want a non affectionate person to be affectionate. A non-business person to be a business person. A person who is always late to be on time. A person who is introverted to be extroverted. Get the point? Friction in relationships comes from wishing others to be different from who they are. Peace comes from acceptance.