In a couple relationship for almost twenty years, Sarah Napthali is the mother of two teenage boys and a long-term practitioner of Buddhist teachings. She is the author of several parenting titles, including the bestselling Buddhism for Mothers. Buddhism For Couples is out now.
Do Buddhist teachings offer guidance to preserve our relationships?
Buddhism provides ways for us to live more calmly - through meditation, mindfulness in our daily life and the cultivation of contentment. These practices all help to make our fuses longer so we are less likely to snap at our partners as we do when we are too stressed. In addition, Buddhist teachings remind us that love is the goal, not power, not being right, not reforming someone in our own image. By cultivating awareness in the present moment the teachings help us to be less caught up in our habitual reactivity, so that we can see more clearly our situation, our partner and ourselves.
What have you found to be the most common complaint from couples?
Definitely the issue of the fair allocation of effort when it comes to childcare and housework. Members of couples spend a lot of time feeling resentful about inequities in the workload and in my book I dedicate a whole chapter to unfairness around housework and dealing with the resentment that arises.
How much importance should we place on understanding our own suffering and our partners?
A Buddhist response to that question would be: a lot. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth is: “There is suffering, so understand it”. The natural human reaction to any form of suffering, discomfort or stress, is to resist it with all our might. Yet Buddhism teaches us that it is this very resistance, the craving for things to be other than they are, that makes us suffer. If we can cultivate reactions such as curiosity, tolerance or acceptance when difficult emotions arise, we are on our way to removing a great deal of angst from our lives. And of course, if we can make an effort to understand the suffering in our partner’s life, then we become a less judgemental, more compassionate partner.
Why are we so resistant to change?
After millennia of living in an environment full of threats to our survival, humans have a strong need to feel safe and secure. Routine, structure, habits, predictability – these all help us to feel safe and in control. Buddhists work on fostering equanimity, or a calmness that is not so reliant on external conditions. While this is a very ambitious aim, if we can observe with clear awareness and curiosity the way we react to incidents in our daily life we gradually learn to react more skilfully, in ways that lead to less stress and suffering.
How do we sort out what really matters in our relationships?
Buddhists often use death to sort out what really matters. This is not fashionable in the West but when we recognise that death is the only certainty, and we don’t know when it will happen, we live differently. For this reason, I have included in Buddhism for Couples an interview with an oncologist who talks about how a diagnosis of cancer has affected the relationships of his patients.
Sarah Napthali is the author of BUDDHISM FOR COUPLES, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $27.99, is on sale now.
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