Up until this moment in history, there has never been a time in which we have expected to find so much of our fulfillment—if not all of it—in our romantic relationships. As psychotherapist and author Esther Perel writes, “Modern romance makes a new and tantalizing promise… Our chosen one can be at once the steady, reliable rock and the one who can lift us beyond the mundane.” It’s a tantalizing promise indeed; one that hinges on a balancing act of acrobatic proportions.
However mesmerizing the promise is, the responsibilities and burdens of everyday life often keep us tethered to the ground. Rather than connecting deeply with our partner’s humanity and transcending the minutiae of our daily routines, we easily get caught up in the drama of “You never take the garbage out.”
When day after day we are caught in narratives that center on slights and squabbles, it becomes much easier to disconnect from our partners—even if that is not our conscious intent. As Perel writes, “When our ability to consider and understand the feelings of others decreases, our relationships suffer.”
The good news is that the opposite is also true: when our ability to consider and understand the feelings of others gets stronger, so do our relationships. Compassion yields connection.
Buddhist practitioners have known this for centuries. Metta meditation, or loving-kindness meditation, helps us cultivate love and compassion for ourselves and others. American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has been instrumental in sharing the metta practice with westerners.
Chodron explains the heart of metta, saying, “The point is to contact an honest feeling of goodwill and encourage it to expand.” While many practitioners use metta as a spiritual practice or a way to cultivate a kinder relationship toward themselves, metta can also be used to foster a deeper connection in our romantic relationships.
How to Apply Metta to Your Relationships
The traditional metta meditation involves working with an aspiration through seven stages. We cultivate loving-kindness for ourselves, those who are dear to us, our friends, people we feel neutral about, and even people we dislike. Then, we try to hold this goodwill for all these people all at once. From there, we cultivate loving-kindness for all beings everywhere.
Metta meditation isn’t dogmatic, and doesn’t require us to spend a particular amount of time in each stage. We are free to rest in any of the seven stages as long as we please, focusing on what speaks to our needs the most.
If we are using metta to connect on a deeper level in our romantic relationships, the practice requires us to meditate simply on cultivating loving-kindness for ourselves and our partners. This practice can be performed regularly to strengthen compassion between partners.
Since we want to get in touch with our true loving nature, the aspirations we work with will be genuine wishes of wellbeing for ourselves and others. We can hold in mind a traditional Buddhist aspiration, like “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness,” or we can use our own words to describe the feeling, such as “May I feel loved.”
This is where the transformation in meditation starts to take place. By recognizing that we genuinely wish to feel happy and loved and that we also want this experience for our partner, we begin to see our relationship through a more loving and compassionate lens.
Why Metta Meditation Works for Relationships
The practice is so effective because it disrupts our narrow narratives. It becomes a lot harder to believe our partner didn’t take out the garbage because he or she wants to make our lives more difficult when we can stop and recognize that, just like us, our partner is essentially a good and loving person who desires happiness.
To fully benefit from metta practice, we eventually must move beyond awareness and into action, taking the lessons we learn in meditation into the physical plane. Once we are aware of how much we desire happiness and love for ourselves and our partners, it is only logical for us to begin acting upon these wishes.
Rather than snapping at our partners, failing to give them the benefit of the doubt, or simply taking their presence for granted, we can be more generous and kinder toward them. We can give ourselves the space to put love into action and show our partners that we value them.
Suddenly, modern romance’s promise isn’t so precarious after all. We can feel grounded in our relationship and experience transcendence simultaneously. The mundanity of daily life is no longer something to get trapped in and bogged down by; instead, it is fertile with opportunities for us to put loving-kindness into action.
With metta in our toolkit, every moment becomes a chance for us to connect with our loving nature—and our partner.
Looking for more on metta? Learn how to cultivate wild loving-kindness.