Whether you’re in your 20’s in your first relationship or over 40 and in a long term relationship or simply starting over much later in life, you’ve likely heard a million times that “relationships take work.” But…exactly how much work are they supposed to take?

Last week I was blindsided by something my partner did and it felt like a belly punch straight to the gut. My reaction was pretty predictable…I felt sad, contemplated my break up letter and then told myself the same story in my head for the next two days. I didn’t actually ask him why he did what he did (I hung up the phone pretty quickly). Later, fortunately, one of my dear, smart friends told me that I needed more information before heading down that long and annoying rabbit hole of despair.

When I finally did reach out to say “help me understand,” he was quick to tell me what was in his head and heart and that, not surprisingly, helped me to see things in a different way – through his lens.

So was that work? Hearing his story made me feel closer to him and, if I’m to be really honest, I had to admit (to myself) that I might have done exactly the same thing in his shoes.

It’s hard to listen deeply and admit that you understand…even when you don’t like a certain behavior and may not even be ready to forgive.

Is that work?

We’ve all experienced the ups and downs of relationships. One day we’re on top of the world, feeling the joy and meaning that a relationship can bring into our lives. The next, our hearts and egos are bruised by some unexpected act that can range from annoying to hurtful.

There’s no playbook for handling the highs or the lows (at least I haven’t found it), but there are some tools to help you navigate these mysteries and maybe even be a better partner yourself. You can decide if that’s work or not.

I asked Chrissy Carter, yogi and flagship instructor on the Meditation Studio app, some of my most pressing questions. After all, she created almost the entire Relationship Collection on the meditation app and she’s been with her beloved partner for 14 years. Surely she can help!

1.  What is the # 1 Lesson You’ve Learned from Being in Relationship?

I think the single most valuable lesson I’ve learned from being in a relationship is the importance of seeing and accepting your partner for who they are. So often, consciously or unconsciously, we see our partners for who we want them to be. This discord between projection and reality obstructs clear, honest communication and can perpetuate the beliefs that contribute to our suffering.

2.  What are the ‘Non-negotiable’ qualities you personally look for in your partner?  

I think sincerity of heart, honesty, and a great sense of humor are so important. I appreciate my partner for always being a mirror so I can see (whether I like it or not) my own patterns and take action towards positive change.

3.  Why do we sometimes bring out the best OR worst in each other in relationship…and how can we be more compassionate with ourselves and our partner when we’re in the ‘worst’ zone? 

I believe we choose our partners based on our relationship with ourselves. Our partners reflect our self-worth and validate our story. In my experience, my partner and I bring out the worst in each other when we look to the other for evidence of our own limited story. That’s when we repeat the same unproductive patterns that keep us trapped in poor communication and subsequent reactions. We bring out the best in each other when we challenge ourselves to change the story—when we use all of the ways in which we trigger each other’s story to actually break free from it.

4.  How do we forgive and let go when we just ‘can’t’ or don’t feel like it?

Time, space, and perspective are, for me, the key to forgiveness. It’s a lot to ask of ourselves to forgive in the moment, especially if it inhibits us from feeling valid emotions such as frustration, anger, betrayal, or sadness. I think it’s important to give yourself the space to feel what you feel; only then can you process those feelings. With time, new layers of meaning will emerge and you will relate to the situation from a different perspective. Then I think you can contemplate forgiveness. All of this said, I think it can be helpful to keep an open mind, because the intention behind someone’s actions may not be what we had assumed in the moment.

5.  What are the top qualities that you’ve needed to cultivate in yourself to be a great, loving, forgiving partner?

My ability to be a loving, supportive partner depends so much on my dedication to my own work. There’s a great passage in the Bhagavad Gita that tells us it’s better to do our own work poorly than someone else’s perfectly. This, to me, captures the essence of relationship. It’s so tempting to do our partner’s work, but in doing so we not only deprive them of the opportunity to do it for themselves, we also conveniently avoid our own stuff. As hard as it is, when I focus on myself—my work, my needs, my story—it enables me to contribute to my relationship in a much clearer, more honest way.

For more relationship wisdom, check out all the Guided Meditations in the Relationship Collection on 5-star app Meditation Studio.

Patricia Karpas is the co-founder and head of content for Meditation Studio LLC, the home of Meditationstudioapp.com. This 5-star app includes 200 meditations, 16 collections, 3 courses and 27 teachers. The app focuses on stress, anxiety, pain, sleep, happiness, confidence, performance and so much more, providing tools for beginners and experienced meditators. It’s a must have! She’s also the host of Untangle, the podcast that showcases the stories of experts, authors and real people whose lives have been transformed by meditation or mindfulness practices.

Image courtesy of Toa Heftiba.