How to Make Your Relationships Work

“According to the Buddha,” started Ajahn, “four qualities need to be present in a relationship for it to be successful: generosity, faith, good behaviour, and understanding. These qualities should be balanced, in other words, both partners should practise them, otherwise things won’t work. If they are balanced but weak, the relationship might last but will be difficult. But if they are balanced and strong, then the relationship will flourish.” It was evening time, and Ajahn had joined us for evening practice and was now delivering his evening discourse. Over the following months, he would sometimes join us for practice, but often for discourse. He would come down between 8 and 8:30 pm, after ninety minutes or two hours of walking, chanting and meditating, and we would turn the lights back on to listen to him.


“But in reality,” he continued, “the reason a relationship will flourish if both partners possess these four qualities is that these are the ingredients necessary for a good relationship with oneself. Generosity will make your mind happy and not greedy. Faith will keep you open and trusting. Good behaviour will make you light and guilt-free. And understanding your own mind is the cornerstone of friendship with yourself. So really, if you cultivate these four qualities, you will be happy, and then you will have something to offer to your partner.” We were all listening. He repeated what he had said in Thai for the benefit of the four who didn’t speak English. I knew this complication was due to my presence, and I felt both touched by his generosity and uncomfortable for being the cause of a constant complication.


He resumed in English, “Conversely, if you come to a relationship empty-handed, without these qualities, then how can anything fruitful happen? If you come to the relationship expecting it to fulfill you because you feel empty, you set yourself up for disappointment. Things might last a while, but they will not be healthy, even if they last. Your partner might be just as needy as you are, and you will then enter into a codependent relationship, or they might be healthier than you and eventually leave.” He paused for a minute. I was impressed that he had taken the time to think about a topic and prepare his talk. He was so busy all day managing everything at the monastery by himself, and yet he still found the energy to come down from his kuti to talk to his monks.


“You know that I have a lot of admiration for the poet Kahlil Gibran, he said lightly. In his book The Prophet, he says “Stand together yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart (…) Even as the strings of the lute are alone, they quiver with the same music.” So what happens if the pillars of the temple lean into each other, or if the strings of the lute touch? The pillars might still support each other, they may not collapse, but there will be no more temple. The roof and everything else will come tumbling down. And if the strings of the lute touch, they may still be attached to the instrument, but they will no longer produce any music.” He paused. All eight of us were listening, heads down. When he delivered his talks, Ajahn also looked down. This was not the time or place to establish personal rapport.


“Codependent partners are like leaning pillars or touching strings,” he continued. “They survive, but there is no temple and no music. But if you cultivate generosity, faith, good behaviour, and understanding, your pillar will never lean, and your string will stay tight and in tune. And all your relationships will be healthier, including romantic,” he paused for a second. “So If you want to attract a loving, caring partner, start with yourself. Cultivate generosity, faith, good behaviour and understanding within yourself. Become loving and caring toward yourself, become your own best friend. Then you will have something to offer to the other.”

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