Human beings are social creatures, and that makes relationships a very important part of our lives. Unfortunately, good relationships do not develop automatically. On the contrary, if we assume that relationships will take care of themselves, we will often find that their quality deteriorates over time. We must then either find a way to repair the damage that such a negligent attitude has enabled, or allow the relationship to die completely.
The good news is that the application of certain spiritual principles can bring about an improvement in relationships of all types. Damaged relationships can be healed, lukewarm relationships can be made good and already satisfying relationships can be improved even further.
These spiritual principles can be applied universally, and so they can help you to improve all kinds of relationships, irrespective of whether they involve romantic partners, parents and children, work colleagues, friends or neighbours. Some relationships will take longer to improve than others, depending on how healthy they are to begin with, but apply the following principles in a diligent and consistent manner and the benefits they bring will soon become apparent.
#1 – Resist the Illusion of Separation
Because you are currently experiencing life as an individual, it is quite easy for you to view yourself as being quite separate from everyone else. From a spiritual perspective, however, that separation is nothing more than an illusion. As discussed in my post on the Unity Principle, you are a part of the whole, and so is everyone else. There is, therefore, no such thing as duality. There is only a mental construct of duality.
Rather than viewing other people as being separate from yourself, cultivate the habit of viewing them as fellow travellers through the journey of life. Like you, these people only want to experience lasting peace and happiness. They may or may not pursue those objectives in a particularly healthy, peaceful or cooperative manner, but that does not make them essentially different to you. When stripped of all external conditioning, all people have basically the same motivations and desires. You therefore have far more in common with other people than may be apparent on the surface.
Remember, individuals can be likened to the waves of the ocean. They have the appearance of separation but are actually only slightly different manifestations of the one underlying whole. Being mindful of this deeper connection that you have with others will enable you to be more skilful in your relationships with them.
#2 – Cultivate an Attitude of Friendship
Since all human beings are experiencing the same journey, it makes sense to cultivate an attitude of friendship with the people you interact with. You don’t have to set out to become the best of friends with absolutely everyone, of course, but having a generally friendly attitude will go a long way to helping your relationships with people.
This principle applies in all cases. It doesn’t matter if the person you are interacting with is a boss, client, child, parent, competitor or a romantic partner; treat them first and foremost as a friend and you will find that your interactions with them automatically become more positive and cooperative.
This principle also applies no matter how long you have known the person you are interacting with. In fact, its importance only becomes greater the more involved you are with someone.
Many romantic relationships run into difficulties because they start out with a strong element of friendship. Then, as the individuals involved grow increasingly close, they may begin taking each other for granted and allow that initial friendship aspect to take a back seat. Since friendship was the foundation of the relationship, neglecting that friendship for an extended period – even if unwittingly – can threaten the relationship as a whole.
One of the quickest ways of improving a romantic relationship – or any other, for that matter – is to bring your focus back to being the best friend you possibly can be. This means being willing to reach a compromise over certain issues, being willing to overlook perceived flaws and imperfections, being willing to forgive, being accepting rather than judgemental, and being willing to give the benefit of the doubt when necessary.
This principle may sound simple, and it is, but cultivating an attitude of friendship can dramatically improve any relationship, so do not neglect to apply it in your life.
#3 – Maintain a Broader Perspective
Allowing yourself to slip into a narrow and short-term view of a relationship can cause you to see problems where there really wouldn’t be any if the relationship were viewed from a broader perspective.
To illustrate this principle, bring to mind an argument or disagreement that you may have had with someone recently, and then ask yourself: Would this really matter if one of you had just 24 hours to live?
In most cases, the answer to that simple question would be no, and in those situations, you would simply rise above the short-term concerns and let the matter go.
But this is not merely a hypothetical exercise. The fact is that death is something which can occur at any time, and it can often do so without any warning whatsoever. That may sound like a morbid observation, but it is demonstrably true, and reminding yourself of that fact could help you to adopt a much lighter and more spiritually aware approach to all of your relationships.
#4 – Be the Other That You Desire
The fourth principle that I would like to share on this topic is to focus on ‘being the other that you desire’. In any relationship, you will have expectations of how you would like the other person to treat you. For example, it is likely that you have some clear ideas about how you would like your boss to treat you, or how you would like your partner to treat you, and so on.
According to this principle, you should make it your goal to treat others in the same way you would like to be treated yourself. If you would like your boss to treat you with more courtesy and respect, focus on being more courteous and respectful. If you would like your partner to treat you with more kindness, then focus on treating them with more kindness.
This principle is very effective for several reasons. One is that human beings are largely reciprocal creatures, and tend to treat others in a similar way as they themselves are treated. By focusing on being the other that you desire, you automatically make it easy for the other person to reciprocate. You will then feel an even greater inclination to be more giving, and the whole relationship will begin following an increasingly positive trajectory.
Another reason why this principle is so effective is because it puts your focus on something that you can control, which is the way you yourself choose to behave in a relationship. You cannot directly control how others will treat you, but you can certainly determine how you will treat others, and if you focus on being the best employee, partner, friend or parent that you can be, you will be doing a great deal to improve the relationship as a whole.
‘Indifferent to worldly objects, a man should wander about treating all creatures in the world as he himself would be treated.’ – Sutrakritanga 1.11.33
Not all of your relationships in life will be equally positive, but none of them need be negative. Apply the four simple principles described here and you will find that the quality and depth of all your relationships will improve as a natural consequence.