If you ask someone in their 20s what matters most to them in life, they will usually say, “My relationship and my career.” Relationships and careers are the stabilizers in today’s world, bringing security, contentment, and purpose in life. Yet we don’t seem to be very good at the relationship part. Many of us are isolated, lonely, dissatisfied with our partners, and simply struggling to nurture and sustain healthy long-term relationships.
Is this reflective of our disposable and mobile culture? Whether we are talking about containers, appliances, or people, we now live in a world where we throw things away so easily. The environmental problems caused by plastic bottles and bags are a symptom. Similarly, when it comes to relationships, what do we do? If there are problems, end it; if there is hardship, look for someone better. We are becoming a culture of quitters.
But the tide is turning: Plastic bags and bottles are banned in many places, and we want sturdier appliances that last instead of cheap ones that fall apart and end up in a landfill. Is our attitude toward relationships also changing? Are we valuing longevity and commitment over a throwaway mentality?
To sustain “long term,” we need emotional intelligence and maturity in relationships, and that requires some basic inner practices. Many of the skills we need actually stem from our own self-awareness practices, such as that of mindfulness and meditation. When we have a better understanding of our own inner emotions, we’re able to respond from a place of generosity.
Based on key self-awareness principles, here are a few inner practices to consider for creating a relationship that lasts:
1. Let harmony be a priority.
Put harmony before being right. Does it really matter if your partner is wrong? Will you ruin the day’s peace by having an argument that could have been avoided by simply saying “OK, honey”?
Ask yourself: Why is it important for me to be right?
2. Listen and pause.
With inner calm and a relaxed mind, you’ll be better able to pause and listen to the other person’s point of view. Ask yourself: What are they feeling and why? Pause often in a conversation and try to understand. Most importantly, what is being communicated behind the words?
3. When there’s tension, love harder.
When there’s tension, what can you do to make the relationship stronger instead of putting it under more stress? Tension is not always a bad thing. It is like a warning bell telling you that something needs to change. Rather than expecting others to change, try to see what you can do.
What happens when you have had a bad day at work and you come home to a partner who has also had a tough day? Are you kind to one another? More often than not you have an argument simply because both of you are tired and irritated. If kids are also in the equation, it can be even more hectic. Dinnertime can be the cause of indigestion! So be kind. And remember, your attitudes and thoughts are even more important than the words you say.
4. Speak sweetly.
When the inner state is calm, speech will also be calm. Cultivate the way you speak so that your voice flows like nectar, in a soothing way without harshness or an edge. People will enjoy listening to you when you speak sweetly.
5. Make it a practice to think through the ways you’ve messed up.
At bedtime, take a minute to close your eyes and feel sorry for anything you have done to hurt others, even unknowingly. There is no need to feel guilty; just promise yourself you will not do it again. You will then sleep with a clearer, lighter conscience.
All of us want healthy, happy, fulfilling relationships—we just need the skills to let them happen. Life is not about running away from problems but facing them head-on with a cheerful and peaceful attitude. Much of the work of creating a long-lasting relationship actually starts with doing the inner work first.