for vaisnavafamilyresources.org on June 5, 2013
"Look at your spouse in the eyes" - a couple practicing this small but important step at a couple's retreat organized by ISKCON's Grihastha Vision Team.
“Where is your bookbag? The bus is outside!”
“I’m late and I can’t find my car keys!”
“I have to be at the temple at 10:00. Can you take Laxmi to work and Nanda to play practice?”
“I don’t have time to talk right now; I have to get to the store before it closes.”
In the fast-paced lifestyle of today’s society, the focus is often getting things done and getting them done fast. Exchanges between spouses and between parents and children are, more often that not, fit in among the goings and comings of family activities and responsibilities. Choosing to slow down and truly connect with one another is considered a luxury that many couples feel they cannot afford. As a consequence, the demands of daily life absorb our attention and energy and we often fail to take the time to focus on the health of our relationship with our spouse.
Mutual respect and appreciation is a foundational component for healthy exchanges between husband and wife. Lord Caitanya states in His Sri Siksastakam: One should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and ready to offer all respect to others. Srila Prabhupada speaks of appreciation in Srimad Bhagavatam 7.5.12:
Everyone should be friendly for the service of the Lord. Everyone should praise another's service to the Lord and not be proud of his own service. This is the way of Vaisnava thinking, Vaikuntha thinking ... Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability.
While most would agree that respect and appreciation are important, the challenge is how we can be consistent and intentional in our efforts to show our mates respect and show that we appreciate them. This takes time.
TIME is critical for a healthy marriage:
T: Talking—focused and attentive communication with your spouse, on functional topics as well as topics meaningful to each other
I: Intimacy—warm, close, personal—sometimes private—association with your spouse
M: Monitoring—constant assessment of the state of your marriage and joint work on plans to expand what is working and to improve what is not supportive of your marital goals
E: Encouragement—support of your mate: during challenging or smooth times, remembering to treat your mate with the same care, sensitivity and empathy with which you would like to be treated
While TIME is important, acting on TIME is not easy. It requires us to operate differently from our habitual patterns. A key question to ask ourselves at this point is this: do I want to make the time to deepen my relationship with my spouse? If the answer is “yes”, that’s great—it’s the first step towards a healthier marriage. If the answer is “no”, that’s great too: it’s great that you identified an obstacle and can begin to start exploring why you don’t want to make the time. Do you feel it is not as important as other things on your list of things to do? Do you have unresolved issues with your partner that are in the way? Are you hopeless or resigned? Are you just plain tired? Sit quietly and explore what might be overshadowing your desire to give time to your partner.
After you have gained some insight, consider this: whether we want to make the time or not, we can choose to. We can have feelings of “not wanting to” and still choose to make time. Do we really want to go to work every day? Do we really want to change diapers? Do we always want to do our services and keep our vows? Yet we still do these things—out of love, out of commitment, out of being in integrity with our vows, etc. We understand as devotees that what may seem bitter in the beginning may be sweet in the end. If we choose to make time for our mates— despite the internal and external obstacles—the sweetness that we may experience may inspire us to keep going and that “not wanting to” will be transformed.
Whatever small steps we are willing to take, consider that the time is actually NOW. We don’t want to wait until our marriage is so sick that it is very difficult to turn around. Using the analogy of the body, if we maintain our health on a consistent basis, we can more easily rebound from setbacks and we support our body’s strength and vitality. If we wait until a health crisis to attend to our health (e.g., heart attack, cancer, etc.), we have an uphill road to climb to regain even basic health functioning, let alone wellness or fitness. Let’s aim for a marriage that is strong and healthy due to consistent time, care and attention—and one that will keep getting stronger every day.
Following are a few simple techniques that we can incorporate into our exchanges with our spouses to deepen our respect, appreciation and love.
1) Look at your spouse in the eyes (when talking, listening, whenever).
This small step can have a phenomenal effect on increasing communication, intimacy, respect and appreciation. You begin to “see” your spouse again.
2) Listen to your spouse talk—without interrupting.
This act shows your mate that what he or she has to say is important enough for you to attentively absorb and consider before you make your comment. Consider not commenting right away—just listen. Mutual respect, patience and humility can be developed from this seemingly small act.
3) Affectionately touch your spouse daily.
A great body of research has shown how physical contact has dramatic effects on physical and psychological health. A simple touch on the shoulder, pat on the back or hug can speak volumes. Through touch, one can create safety, encouragement, care and connectedness.
4) Say one thing positive daily to your mate.
We are often quick to notice and point out what we feel is not working or wrong about our mates. Instead, commit to say one thing positive to your spouse every day. It can be simple: “Thanks for making dinner” or “I appreciate that you covered my service for me” or “I’m glad I married you.”
Also make a point to say positive things about your mate—to your children, friends and others.
5) Ask about your spouse and don’t discuss you.
Have a conversation with your spouse that only focuses on his or her interests, needs or concerns. Listen with genuine interest and ask questions to understand, not fix or judge. Ask if he or she wants feedback or just wants you to listen. Help problem solve, if requested or necessary.
6) Let your partner make the decision.
In a situation where you are attached to your point of view, just say “ Yes” or “OK” to your spouse’s view or decision. Even if it is not your view or your way of doing things. Even if you really think it may not work . Even if you think you are right and he or she is wrong . Just say “ Yes” and see what happens. No matter what happens, keep your heart open and stay open to learn from the experience. You may gain important insights about your spouse and about yourself.
7) Pray for your spouse.
Commit to pray daily for your spouse. Prayer is a very potent force and prayers of the Vaisnavas can move mountains. Earnestly pray for Krsna to shape you, your spouse, and your marriage according to His will. Krsna is ever-willing to assist us in coming closer to Him.
Following these few steps are a good start to making TIME and deepening your connection with your mate. Connect with others who will support you and your spouse to act on your goals. Practice these steps not only with your spouse but with your children, family and friends. The more you practice, the more these efforts will become your automatic patterns. The more we express the qualities of mutual respect and appreciation in our homes and communities, the more we can extend those same qualities to those in the larger world community that Srila Prabhupada has commissioned us to serve.
(For further reading, Marriage Fitness by Mort Fertel offers many simple and practical relationship-building activities).
Cintamani devi dasi has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology and is a clinical supervisor for a large human services agency. She is a member of Grihastha Vision Team and is a marriage and family educator. She resides in Gita Nagari Dhama with her husband and two daughters.