We are now into our third month of “sheltering in place” due to Covid19. Previously I discussed various coping skills I’ve been using for this situation. As I mentioned, thinking of it as a retreat continues to work well for me. Equally important is getting along well with those you are “sheltering” with. We can be driving ourselves crazy by now, or growing closer. In the case of my wife, Karen, and I it is the latter. It helps that we have been married close to 46 years, and have had ample time to even out the rough spots in our relationship. But that doesn’t just happen naturally, you have to work at it. My fellow blogger Joyful Stephanie has some good tips in her ongoing series “55 Rules for Love”. Here are some things Karen and I work on.
Putting Each Other First
In his book Passage Meditation, meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran recommended seven other practices to supplement meditation with in daily life. One of these is putting others first: Putting the happiness of others ahead of our own can paradoxically lead to increased happiness for us. But this can be tricky if you practice it with everyone, there are definitely people out there who will take advantage of you. Easwaran emphasized that this practice does not mean “making yourself a doormat”, and gave good advice on how to implement it. One useful tip is to start by practicing it on someone you can trust, who you know cares about your happiness and welfare as much as you care about theirs. In my case that is definitely Karen. The more unconditionally loving I am to her, the more I get paid back, in spades, and the happier we both are.
So since we’re “stuck together” I decided this would be a good time to work harder on this practice. And it has worked.
The Golden Rule
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, or equivalent, appears in all the world’s religions. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong gives a compelling talk in which she argues it may be the most important teaching, which the world would do well to do a better job following.
Early on I used to follow this to the letter with Karen, but I wasn’t getting the full spirit of it. It might not bother me if someone leaves the toilet seat up, for example, but it does bother her if I do that (it might have something to do with her coming close to “falling in” in the middle of the night). But the spirit of “as you would have them do unto you” needs to be interpreted as “don’t do things to someone else that you know bothers them even if it wouldn’t bother you”.
I remember explaining this subtle point about the golden rule to a friend of mine, and he wryly answered “maybe that’s why it hasn’t caught on”. Well I think the world would be a better place if it did catch on more. In any case, I can report that Karen and I practice it on each other and it helps.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
There are always going to be things in any relationship where you irritate each other. But a lot of them are pretty inconsequential. One spiritual teacher, I forget where I read this, claimed this was a main benefit of long-term relationships- these irritants are like sandpaper, wearing the rough edges of each others egos. I must admit to not always recognizing this as a benefit in “the heat of the moment”.. But it helps to keep a sense of humor about the little things, and “pick your battles” and honestly discuss with each other what really bothers you.
Technology also helps. Karen and I do not agree on the proper strength of coffee, to put it mildly. I think hers tastes like dishwater, and she things mine “will grow hair on your chest”. This is not a little thing, this is a potential show-stopper. So we have two small coffee makers instead of one big one. Problem solved.