Archive for January, 2008

Removing guilt from our relationships

Too often in relationships, we try to make our partner feel guilty. We point out ways in which they made us suffer – perhaps that they kept us waiting for 10 minutes, that they forgot our birthday, or that we do most of the housework. Although it is sometimes important to say such things, it is all too easy to make this a habit. If we are not careful, we can actually find ourselves seeking more ways to make our partner feel guilty.

Why would we want our partner to feel bad? Don’t we love them? Deliberately making them feel guilty is not something we usually do at the start of a relationship. Initially, we do everything we can to win their heart. Why might this habit change?

Generally, we try to make our partner feel guilty in the hope that they will treat us better. However, such an approach not is not grounded in love and will always backfire. If we use guilt as a weapon to attack our partner, the only result will be a loss of love and trust. Although it is sometimes legitimate to explain why they upset us, actively looking for ways to make them guilty is harmful, foolish, yet all too common.

As well as making our partner feel bad, the habit makes us feel bad too. Think about it – if we are continually reciting the hardships we suffer, it will not take long to conclude that life is terrible. To make matters worse, we blame our suffering on our partner, thus ignoring the true cause. We cannot feel good again until we acknowledge the real problem, which is our tendency to focus on our hardships and try to make our partner feel guilty. We must then make an effort to turn this tendency around.

There are a couple of ways to do this. First, we can recognize where we use guilt, and understand that it is a harmful and unloving act against our partner. We can ask ourselves why we do it – what are we really trying to achieve? If our goal is to make our partner love us more and treat us better then we should think of more effective ways to bring this about. Second, we should think about our own mistakes, either in this relationship or in past relationships. Realize how easy it would be for someone to make us feel guilty about all that we have done! When we become aware of all of our own shortcomings, we are more forgiving of our partner’s, and ultimately, forgiveness is the quality that we must display.

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Don’t be competitive!

Although competitiveness is often glorified, it is actually very harmful both to our spiritual development and also to our relationships. There are two fundamental problems with competitiveness: The first is that we give too much prominence to our ego, considering ourselves to be more important than others. The second is that we become overly attached to what are often very trivial matters. Both of these contradict the premises of spirituality and will cause conflict in our daily lives.

Competitiveness comes in many forms. The classic one is to be obsessed with winning. Competitive people want to win in even the most trivial of matters, such as a game of tiddlywinks. Of course, there is nothing wrong with competing for fun, but only provided that we are not genuinely concerned with the result. If we find ourselves experiencing a sense of deflation when we lose, then we have a problem. In the first place there is the sheer absurdity of the situation. We are letting our self-worth be defined by our ability to play tiddlywinks. Second, we are failing to respect our opponent’s desire to also win the game. We are somehow considering ourselves to be more important, and thus considering our own success to be more desirable.

We must counter these notions by recognizing the equality between all beings. We must recognize that this concept of ego, the concept of “I”, is nothing more than a mental fabrication, and should not be put up on a pedestal. We must learn to rejoice in the accomplishments of others, and understand that we can all succeed and be happy when we work together. This concept may initially be easiest to see with our friends (with whom, ironically, we often compete the most), and can then be extended to all beings.

We can also counter competitiveness by keeping the bigger picture in mind and not becoming attached to one tiny area of our life. Our self-worth is not defined by our ability to play tiddlywinks, or tennis, or even by our ability to ace exams. We must put these qualities alongside qualities such as kindness to others, and see that they are not so important. Then we may be less obsessed with whatever we are competing about.

Remember, competitiveness is not restricted to playing a game. It also manifests as a desire to be right in an argument, which can once again be over something trivial such as the definition of a word. It may arise as jealousy – perhaps that our friend is more popular than we are. It also arises as the desire to be the acknowledged expert on a subject: For example, we wish to be the one to demonstrate the correct golf swing – we do not want our equally accomplished friend to demonstrate it.

Thus, we must be on the lookout for competitiveness in all areas of our life. We must constantly be on guard for jealousy and attachment. When we find that our pride is hurt, or that our relationships are burdened with conflict, competitiveness is probably present. In such situations, we must counter it in the way described.

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