Part 5 in Relationship Series
Updated: May 24
Remembering The Limitations of Intimate Relationships
There are many pleasant and wonderful things in this world. Buddhist practice does not say that one should not enjoy them. In fact, the Buddha said that “sense pleasures are to be enjoyed.” More importantly though, the teachings say that there is nothing--no thing--in this world that will provide the ultimate peace and happiness that our hearts want. This is stated as, all phenomena are Dukkha or unsatisfactory. This includes intimate relationships. As wonderful as they may be at times, they do not have the capacity to bring deep, lasting, unconditional happiness to us. This does not mean they are wrong or bad. Nor does it mean that we should not partake in them. It simply means they are not the right tool for the job of unconditional happiness.
Unfortunately, the predominant message we receive from popular culture is that intimate relationships are the be-all and end-all. Not only that, but we hear that our intimate relationships should be perfect, with deep, ongoing connection, laughter, great sex--and they should provide for our every emotional need. Not only is that a set up for frustration and disappointment, it’s simply not true. No relationship has the capacity to do all of that. One aspect of the wisdom of old age is that, after being involved in a number of close, intimate relationships, the truth of what they can and cannot offer gets clearer. Unfortunately, most people have to suffer disappointment in their younger years as they slowly come to that understanding.
Whether we are heading into a new relationship or are in one already, it is important to understand and remember that the relationship has a finite capacity in terms of the amount and type of happiness it can provide us. It can go a long way toward reducing the possibility of blaming our partner for the shortcomings of the relationship, which is a very common occurrence. Knowing and remembering these limitations also helps to reduce self doubt that can come about as we compare the reality of our relationship to the ones that get portrayed in movies and books. Our relationship comes up short and then we doubt the relationship, ourselves, our partner, or all of it.
Relationships are not supposed to be perfect or provide us with everything we need. If they did, we’d be living in a different world with a different set of natural laws. But we live in this world, where nothing--no thing--has the capacity to bring our hearts to the peace and rest they so long for. Just remembering that will go a long way toward keeping unnecessary expectations and suffering from our intimate relationships.