Ten Zen Things to Save Your Marriage

How to open your eyes to the magic inherent in ordinary life and love

Posted Oct 31, 2012

Let me begin with a disclaimer: Not all relationship problems can be solved, neither with the Zen way of life nor with the bravest psychological interventions. Even when you are in perfect peace with yourself and accept responsibility for your emotional baggage, your partner might continue to blame you for his. Some marriages can only be saved with one hundred Zen things; others cannot be saved at all. With this said, a lot of marriages can be saved with a few, relatively minor changes. You owe it to yourself to try.

Zen is being aware of the flow of life. As a Zen psychologist, I am in the habit of looking at parts – an experience, action, characteristic or event -- as connected to the whole, both inside and outside of ourselves. Everything belongs to an interconnected, ever-changing stream of life. When we start ripples on our side of the embankment, they often reach the other side, softly and effortlessly. This means that a few changes in us can trigger a chain reaction that profoundly touch our life partner. There is no need to change every corks of yourself to provoke a meaningful difference in your marriage.

First, let us focus on undoing some of the common damaging behavior. For more suggestions and the science behind them, please refer to my book A Unified Theory of Happiness.

FIVE ZEN THINGS NOT TO DO

1. Stop Nagging 

Address when your feelings get hurt or when the other truly annoys you, but bite your tongue when it comes to small, unimportant  matters. Snap a rubber band on your wrist; give her or him a dollar bill if you fail and nag. Whatever it takes, stop nagging.

2. Stop Watching Screens

Technology kills erotic love, whether it is watching television or youtube videos on the computer, playing video games, texting, twittering or posting.

3. Stop Using Negative Rhetoric

Sarcasm and name calling add unnecessary pain to your relationship. 

4. Stop a Pattern that Bothers Your Partner

Surprise your partner. Pick one behavior and drop it to demonstrate your love.

5. Stop Talking Badly about Your Partner for Entertainment

Refrain from joking about marriage, neither yours nor anybody else's. It’s destructive.

FIVE ZEN THINGS TO DO 

1. Pay Extra Attention

Pay attention to your partner in the first ten minutes after you wake up as well as when you reunite later in the day. Smile at your partner for a few seconds longer. Ask how he feels. Tell him how much you love him. Listen carefully. Kiss and embrace him. You might be surprised, but this is a scientifically proven way to turn things around dramatically.

2. Take Seriously Your Partner’s Argument and Inner Conflicts

Validate your partner’s point of view. Science supports, when partners are able to tell the problem from the other’s perspective, they are more likely to remain a couple.

3. Pay attention to the Mundane

When couples show interest in the ordinary, they end up in fewer divorces. It is amazing how important it is to be heard (See blog article: Listen to Me!). It is easy to love the extraordinary, while, in truth, love thrives on the ordinary.

4. Focus on the Bigger Picture

Gain perspective. When you forget how much you love the other, think of how you will not be able to enjoy her once she will have passed. Picture impermanence in her death, if you have difficulties switching perspective. 

5. Say “Yes” to Your Partner

Say "Yes" to the whole, even if you do not like every single part. Love is a resounding “Yes" that needs to be repeated often. Embrace the whole body and say “Yes," even though some parts may be less than perfect. Disappointments are natural. Bad breath is natural. Love knows to be patient with the bad as it comes with the good. Manage the bad. Talk about it. But then see beyond and accept your partner as one interconnected whole. 

These Ten Zen Things work best when both partners practice them together. So, share this list with your partner. Discuss it. Change it. Improve it. In the end, do not let a good thing go bad because you look for an easy way out. Many marriages can be saved by accepting that they can be hard work. It is normal. A few well-placed changes can go a long way.

© 2012 Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. All Rights Reserved