There’s not many of us who aren’t completely head over heels with the idea of love. We might pretend to be cynical, and above all of that Disney silliness, but then we meet the right person and the next thing we know we’re humming wedding themes and planning our joint future. But even the most committed couples find that the realities of life can get in the way of their perfect partnership, and once the honeymoon period is over it takes a little more effort to keep things tip-top. In this, meditation can help enormously.
It might be because we’re pumped full of love hormones and all our instincts are screaming “impregnate this human immediately!”, but it’s very easy to prioritise our partner in the first flush of affection. However, this doesn’t always come naturally to us later on, especially once they’ve become part of the furniture. Little annoyances and resentments can accumulate, like barnacles, on relationships – and nothing is improved by the addition of a bunch of stroppy limpets. Combine this with the inclination to take things that seem permanent in our lives for granted, and it gets hard to view our own personal love-god with the same starry-eyes we started with.
So how can meditation help you keep the spark alive? Well, here’s how just twenty minutes a day could keep us hopelessly in the grip of love and lust.
Passion and Connection
It’s normal that, once we get used the idea that our partner is sticking around, we won’t be tearing their clothes off with quite the same urgency with which most people start their relationship. Some comfort is a good thing, and intimacy naturally entails seeing people during their less sexy moments. You can’t expect to live with someone without breaking the illusion that they are a perpetually sweet-smelling, dashing raconteur – the effort involved in maintaining such an image would leave them dangerously weak and enfeebled.
However, by the same token, you don’t want to stop fancying each other. Stress can have a pretty disastrous impact on a person’s libido, and in the modern world it is at epidemic levels. Early on in the romance, the fact that we’ve had a horrible day at work isn’t going to have much of an effect. But once someone becomes an entrenched part of our everyday life, rather than a dazzling escape from it, then stress creeps into the relationship and can colour how we feel.
When we’re really stressed out, our body shuts down our sex drive, because in our evolutionary history creating new life in difficult situations could endanger our survival. Nowadays, many of us are lucky enough not to worry about things that used to kick us into “fight or flight” stress mode (like a lack of food or an aggressive neighbouring tribe). However, our body still reacts as if it is in mortal danger in response to modern triggers – like a horrible commute or demanding boss. Furthermore, the things that accompany stress – such as lack of sleep, exhaustion, anxiety and unhappiness – are bound to have an impact on how seductive we feel.
But even if you can’t give up your stressful job and spend your life in loved-up bliss on a honeymoon island, all is not lost! If your partner is waltzing about in their pants and you don’t even look twice, then meditation can help. One of the most famous benefits of meditating everyday is that it makes us calmer (probably why you never see a petulant monk), and it has been proven to reduce our stress. For one thing, people who meditate have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and just eight weeks has been shown to reduce the size of our amygdala – the stress centre of the brain.
With less stress to make us feel tired, wound up and generally crabby, we’ll be far more receptive to intimacy, and able to connect with our partner in an effortless way.
Clarity and Prioritization
With so much going on in our lives, it can be very easy to get bogged down. Life in the developed world may be more comfortable than most of our ancestors enjoyed, but you can also argue that it is far more complicated. The fast-paced nature of our lives, combined with endless choice and an excess of information, creates what is known as the “mental load”. Everything that we do has a weight of knowledge and thought behind it, as well as ephemeral worries about things we have no control over.
We can’t even cook dinner these days without thinking about the implications for our health, advantages and disadvantages of clean eating, how we’re complicit in the evils of the meat/dairy/quinoa industry and how we really need to get to the shop. With so much going on in our heads, we lose clarity, and forget about what’s truly important. Also, the demands of life – whether that’s kids, our career, or hobbies – mean that we can put our relationship on the backburner, relying on the idea that it can tick over without much input. A healthy relationship can take a bit of de-prioritisation for a little while, but can’t survive being ignored forever.
Meditation helps us clear our minds. We can think without the usual cloud of worry and stress that makes it easy to blow small issues out of all proportion. For example, if our partner has forgotten to pick up something we need, it’s still annoying – but we know that it’s not worth a big row or a day of silent seething. We can also let go of silly resentments, so we no longer view our partner through the lens of “that’s the person who let me down three months ago”. It becomes easier to assess their intentions, actions and feelings fairly, rather than letting our ideas be influenced by irritation.
We also have more energy and feel much better within ourselves, so we can give our partner the time and attention they need. It allows us to recognise the things we need to prioritise and what can to be put to one side, so we no longer neglect our partnership. All in all, meditation helps us cut through the crap, and see what’s important.
Kindness and Understanding
‘Relationships take work’ is a pretty depressing cliché, casting up images of grimly hewing at a coalface, but the majority of this work is simply being kind and respectful. The problem is, this is far harder when we are feeling terrible. We take out our stress on our partner, and don’t give them the benefit of the doubt when we need to. There’s also an odd idea that we can treat our partners worse than we would, say, an acquaintance in the office. While it’s important to be our authentic selves, we should show more empathy to our significant other then we would perhaps muster for anyone else. If we wouldn’t say it to a friend, why would we say it to the love of our lives?
It’s difficult to break out of our internal narratives, and if a lot of resentments have built up in our relationships it’s hard to see outside of them. We carry around that anger, descending into the bitter sniping of “old married couple” fame. We barely acknowledge that they’ve slaved over a hot stove to make dinner – all we can see is the messy kitchen – while they don’t notice that we’ve had a long day, and won’t let our negative comments slide. Of course, we love our partners, and unless we’re unlucky this shouldn’t get too bad – but it would be nice if we could avoid it entirely.
This is where meditation comes in. As well reducing the stress which transforms us into awful grumpy monkeys, meditation increases our kindness and empathy. A study at Northeastern and Harvard University found that people who had been on a meditation course were far more likely give up their seat for a unwell stranger than people who hadn’t. And this was only after eight weeks of the practice. By meditating together, we find ourselves more able to put ourselves in our partners shoes, and show the love and care needed to keep each other happy.