If you are in a long-term relationship, you are surely familiar with phases of love life. The initial wonderful phase of finding the “chemistry,” all the things you could be sharing with each other, finding your own hopes and fantasies personified in the form of your partner! Then comes the phase of finding the differences, realization that your partner is really not everything you had thought them to be. Although at this point, some couples break up, some fight, make resolutions, and stay together, this is actually a time of great opportunity.
Even in the best of relationships, in the middle of all the closeness and companionship, some times things just don’t seem to work. Your partner just does not seem to understand your needs, the communication seems broken, frustrations from irritating patterns build up, and you either “freeze,” creating a sort of cold war or “explode,” resulting in arguments. You may even give up and you either create walls of “What is the use of saying this, I will just keep this to myself,” or you get into the “freeze” and the “explosions” more rapidly and for longer periods of time. You often wonder if you will be better off being on your own. You continue staying together, but you decide that nothing is going to work and there is no way out of such impossible impasse.
If you feel this way, that there is just no way out of such impossible impasse, I challenge you that there is one way that you have never explored! This way will return you back to closeness, understanding, and a sense of belonging with each other. This way is to learn to meditate over compassion. As a meditation teacher and a psychotherapist who works with couples, I can guarantee you the positive effect of compassion meditation on relationships. Personally, I can say that compassion meditation is what has saved my marriage from going the wrong way and allowed us to fall in deep “connection” with each other.
First, understand what compassion means and then learn to meditate over compassion. Compassion is to join a person in his or her suffering in a genuine way. Furthermore, compassion is the wish that the suffering be alleviated for the person. In case of your relationship, compassion is the strong wish that the suffering be alleviated for you and for your partner. Compassion is not just empathy, sympathy, being in the other person’s shoes, all-acceptance, or a sweet attitude towards your partner’s mistakes. It is not just one of these things, although they may become by-products of compassion. If you are able to feel the suffering of your partner in a genuine way, with the wish that this be alleviated for you and your partner, your communication for your partner will have a different quality.
Meditating over compassion is a way to train you to orient yourself towards compassion and to experience compassion. There comes the important question. What does it mean by meditating over compassion? Here is one meditation over compassion when you want to make sense of your built-up frustration and when you are not sure how to deal with it.
Sit in the meditative pose and for some time pay attention to your breathing. Then allow your partner’s face or a gesture to come to your mind and observe whatever feelings this brings to you. Now repeat this to yourself:
“Inhale; I breathe in compassion for my partner and me, and exhale; I breathe out compassion.”
Repeat this to yourself as long as you can and just watch what feelings come to your mind. No need to analyze the problem, no need to desperately look for ways to solve the problem, just simply allow compassion (the wish that the suffering be alleviated) to flood your system.
As you are doing it, sometimes, an insight will fall in your lap, insight into either why your partner may have behaved in a certain way, or insight into a reframed version of your fight, or insight into what you should be doing next to alleviate the suffering for you both. You will have new view of what to communicate to your partner. You will get the wisdom to know what you want to do with the problem at hand. You will get new realizations of the closeness and belonging that you share with your partner. If not in each instance of meditation, it will happen at some instance.
There lies the interesting irony! If you offer compassion to your partner, and figure out what that means to you in terms of your own behavior, no strings attached and with patience, then you will eventually get what you need from your partner! Get into the habit of meditation over compassion for you and your partner, get the insights into the pain you both are going through, and you will make progress out of the impossible impasse. You will get what you want, by offering genuine and patient compassion to your partner—without “who goes first.”
You will see that new connections will spring up, new explanations will emerge, and a new harmony may show up. The relationship may be lifted to another plane.
Build a regular meditation practice. Building the meditation muscle on a regular basis will make it easier to get insights by meditating when and if you need such an insight, for example, right after a frustrating argument. Meditate over compassion for your partner, alone, or with each other. These quiet moments of contemplation are the unexplored other way.
Swati Desai, Ph.D., LCSW, is a psychotherapist and meditation teacher at The Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine.
* Meditation is currently one of the most researched psychological tool. Preliminary studies show that compassion meditations reduce the stress-related behavioral response, which could lead to more social connectedness. Studies conducted by Davidson and colleagues in the Lab for Affective Neuroscience & Waisman Lab for Brain Imaging & Behavior, UW-Madison Psychology Department show that compassion meditations attune the brain to all sorts of emotional stimuli, including suffering, and intense practice will evoke loving feelings independent of object and circumstances.