How to navigate the first years of a long-term relationship

(Photo above by 嵐 楓 / Pexels)

Studies show that the first years of marriage are the toughest. Here’s a Buddhability guide to navigating the challenges of your first years together.

It’s wedding season, and maybe you and your partner are tying the knot. Or maybe you’re simply moving in with someone you’re in a serious relationship with. The first years of a long-term partnership are incredibly exciting but are also often the most challenging time in a relationship. Studies show that couples are most likely to divorce in year seven of their marriage. A close second is getting divorced in year one of marriage.

Why are the first years of living together so difficult? Psychologist Robert Taibbi shares these common challenges.

1. The logistics of sharing space. Think of the shock when hearing the question, “Is it OK if I put my model plane collection in our bedroom?” Or “Why can’t my pet iguana sleep with us?”

2. Conflicting Habits. Maybe your partner is a night owl and you’re an early riser. Or maybe you have different expectations of how long dishes can be kept in the sink before you wash them.

3. Negotiating couple time vs. individual time. Should I take my partner with me to a concert they might not be interested in? Should I go to a movie I don’t want to so we can be together? These might seem like small issues, but they can add up and cause frustration and conflict.

On top of this, if you choose to have children, a set of additional challenges emerge. These range from feeling a loss of personal freedom to dealing with the stress of childcare.

Buddhism teaches that happiness isn’t an absence of problems. Instead, true fulfillment comes when we have the courage to face our problems and persevere. Often the key to navigating early challenges in a partnership is having patience and a big heart. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:

All couples are essentially two separate individuals with different backgrounds and life experiences. That’s why, without patience and a conscious effort to understand each other, they cannot succeed as a couple. It takes patience and perseverance for a couple to make a life together, while striving to create a safe, supportive home environment, to work at their respective jobs, to care for their children and provide them with a proper education, as well as to take action to help others. Happiness is built on patience and perseverance. There are many who dream about happiness without being willing to invest much effort. But that is merely a dream—a fairy tale, a simplistic and childish view of life. This illusion breaks up many marriages. To seek happiness that way can only end in misery.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Part 2, p. 82

Though we may feel completely comfortable with our partner when we move in, there is no way to know the many ways in which our partner is different from us until we live with them day in and day out. It’s only by going through the grind together of daily life that we can truly understand them and where they’re coming from. That’s why patience and perseverance are essential. But how do we build this?

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each day we can build a broad state of life and a big heart.  To chant is to awaken to our Buddhahood and wrestle with our negativity. What does this look like? As we chant, we feel more empowered and confident that we can handle anything that life throws at us because we know we have Buddhability. We overcome our tendency to blame others or to feel that we’re at the mercy of our surroundings or another person. We also deepen our appreciation when we chant for those who support our life.

Daisaku Ikeda describes what it looks like when we have such a big heart:

When a couple has similar life conditions, it is only natural that they will lock horns from time to time. But if you can take a step back and regard your partner with the compassion you would have for your own child for example, you’ll be able to be more forgiving and empathetic, and avoid unnecessary confrontations. How much better it would be not to take your partner’s nagging so personally, to be bighearted enough to see it as an expression of their natural vitality, a sign that they are alive and well. If you can achieve such an expansive life state, then even your partner’s nagging will sound instead like sweet birdsong.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Part 2, p. 82

Of course, no two relationships are the same. There may be times when after lots of chanting and reflecting on our situation deeply, we decide it is best to split from our partner. In Buddhism, our happiness is not determined by whether we are married to someone. Our happiness is determined by our state of life or what’s inside of our hearts.

However, if we decide it’s best to work on our relationship with patience and perseverance, we can discover after years that our love for our partner has deepened to a level unimaginable when we first met. Ikeda writes:

Making steady efforts to build a life together, having the patience and perseverance to move forward together—these are the foundation from which real love develops. Real love means wanting to share your life with the other person forever. Real marriage is when you have been married for 25 years and feel an even deeper love than you did when you first met. True love is something that deepens. Love that does not is on the level of simple attraction or liking.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Part 2, p. 83

Real love can be really challenging, but building such a magnificent lifelong relationship is worth it.

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