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Ben: Hi, James. When we met last week we talked mostly about my music/work life and how I’m trying to apply a karma yoga attitude – work on being dispassionate, etc. I didn’t talk much about relationship stuff, but since I have an agitated mind today due to a recent experience with my wife it brought up some questions maybe you could clear up.
I seem to have a habit of not responding/reacting well when someone throws anger out at me. My wife has a habit of doing one of two things when we’re in a discussion and she has to hear something she doesn’t want to hear: (1) cut off the conversation or (2) explode, temper tantrum, etc. Both drive me nuts and unfortunately my habit is to respond in a like manner followed by a feeling of not wanting to have any contact with her for a while – avoidance. I’m having a pretty hard time trying to neutralize this particular dislike.
Without going into the past, I had similar experiences with my mother who when we were growing up could be quite a tyrant – lots of anger/yelling/judgement – I didn’t have much contact with her for quite a while once I moved away as a teenager – now we get along fine – she’s a lot less angry, more mellow, and I’ve changed too. I’ve had some success neutralizing/accepting some of the likes/needs that my partner can’t/won’t provide, but this dislike is a hard one, probably based on my past conditioning. My wife fits the general relationship criteria of being a good, honest, open-minded person, but I think we both suffer from the same problem of not responding well when anger is thrown out at either of us. I wish my response would be to just laugh it off when this happens, but it’s not my nature and has resulting in an agitated mind.
Should I continue to just look at my relationship as my sadhana and apply karma yoga or is there something else I’m missing that could help? Thanks for your patience – I bring up this relationship stuff very reluctantly!!!
James: Hi, Ben. Relationships are always about satisfying likes and dislikes. The basic problem is that both of you think the other one is there to make you happy. I think it is unlikely that either of you have questioned that assumption or that if you have you may not know how to be happy without relying on the behavior of others, so we can leave this idea out of the conversation for now and assume that you have a relationship based on the idea that the other person is there to solve the like/dislike issue.
It sounds like you both are unskillful communicators of negative emotions. I suggest that you look into NVC, Nonviolent Communication. It has proven to help people past the language issue by teaching you how to be polite when you have an issue. Of course karma yoga is best, but this does not seem to work.
The basic problem psychologically is that you expect your desires to be met and when they are not met you get angry. Even if your mother had not had this habit, it is just human nature to get angry when desire is thwarted. There is no reason why anyone should satisfy your needs, but this is not how the ego sees it. So if you want to get at the root, you should inquire into why you think your wife is supposed to – or even can – give you what you want. You need to see if what you want, which is always just happiness, is not available within you at all times, irrespective of what your ego wants. If you can realize this, you will be free of the need for a wife – and in fact any other object.
If you can find the happiness you seek within yourself, your relationship will become very pleasant because she will no longer feel the pressure of your needs, which are not always in harmony with yours. And you will able to say no to her without upsetting yourself. She may be still upset if she does not understand that her needs are her problem, not yours, but that will then be her problem, not yours. This pattern of expecting someone else to take care of your needs is left over from childhood. Yes, everything that we apparently have comes through other people and if your needs are in harmony with the needs of the total they will get met one way or the other, not always from the source you expect. This is why karma yoga says to surrender the results to God before you act. If God needs to use your wife to give you what you want, It will. If not, it will come from another source. If you are not meant to get what you want, nobody will give it to you.
~ Love James