How using Buddha’s teachings can put you on the path to marital bliss
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Eng-Kong Tan wants you to get used to disappointment — it could save your marriage.
When the honeymoon period is over, he says, you need someone outside the relationship who can say: “It’s OK. It’s part of the journey of intimacy.”
He’s not trying to burst anyone’s bubble. In fact, he wants to help people stay together.
The Buddhist consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist provides mindfulness-based couples therapy.
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment without judgemental thoughts.
And he knows a thing or two about how to make love last — he’s been happily married for 48 years. Dr Eng-Kong Tan’s tips for a mindful relationship Choose someone who wants to take care of other people The real test of a marriage isn’t how well you’ve chosen — it’s how well you survive “all the disillusionments” of a long term relationship You’re not alone in having intense feelings — speaking to a therapist can help
While his religion — Buddhism — and mindfulness are closely connected, he is careful to separate the two in his work.
He acknowledges that similar techniques exist in Western psychology, and that comparable spiritual practices can be found in other religious traditions.
“I don’t even call it Buddhist, because mindfulness is now in the air,” he explains.
The point of his approach is to find new ways for couples to relate to one another and weather the inevitable hardships that come with being in an intimate relationship. Happiness starts with working through disappointment
The process of choosing our beloved is a small cog in the wheel of romantic partnership, according to Eng-Kong.
He says the real test of a marriage isn’t how well we’ve chosen — it’s how well we survive “all the disillusionments”. Hear what Dr Eng-Kong Tan says is the “essential quality” in a long-term partner.
He is wary of the way popular culture puts romance on a pedestal, and he doesn’t appreciate saccharine love songs on the radio.
“‘You are the one’, ‘you are perfect for me’ — no! That is because they’re in love,” he says.
“When we’re in love, we project onto the other what is perfect for us. But the other is not that.”
The key is to check our unconscious expectations.
“Sometimes we think we marry someone because we just want to love them,” Eng-Kong says.
But deep down, we might be looking for someone who gives us the order we need, “emotionally and psychologically”. Photo: It’s worthwhile to check unconscious expectations of a partner. (Unsplash: freestocks.org)
He advises against believing in the “storybook happily ever after”. Instead, he says, couples should focus on how to work together through inevitable disappointment.
Eng-Kong says it’s a good idea to look for someone who isn’t only attracted to you, “but fundamentally you feel is a good person who wants to take care of you”.
He calls the drive to care for other people a “fundamental ingredient”, and says that even the most severe marital problems can be solved if it is present. Meditation is one element of the eightfold path
Eng-Kong starts and ends each session by meditating with his clients.
He says this gives them “five minutes of quiet self-reflection” to help imprint “what was good and useful” about the session for later use.
These meditations are integral to Buddhism, as mindfulness is one element of the eightfold path that Buddha described as a route to Enlightenment.
The path has three arms — moral conduct, mental discipline and wisdom — with corresponding actions that are all interconnected, like a wheel, a prominent Buddhist symbol. Photo: Buddha’s Eightfold Path is an “outward-looking way of life”. (Unsplash: Sabine Schulte)
Piyasoma Medis, a lay Buddhist teacher and preacher, says following the eightfold path is not a selfish pursuit — it’s designed to benefit the people around you.
“It’s an outward-looking way of leading a Buddhist life,” Piyasoma, who has also been married for 48 years, explains.
“In our relationship, my wife should be my priority. And she feels the same way about me.”
Piyasoma says practising right thought — detachment from malice and selfish desire — inevitably leads to right speech.
“You choose your words really carefully without hurting others,” he says.
Right speech influences compassion in dealing with other people, and the cycle continues. Photo: In Buddhism, right thought leads to right speech — and promotes kindness. (Unsplash: Asaf R) What we can learn from Buddha’s rejection of self
Eng-Kong says the Buddhist idea of rejecting the inward-focused, singular, unchanging self is a deeply useful tool in understanding the way we relate to others, including a partner.
The spiritual self is “less and less I, me and mine”, he says. “Meaning in life is not about what I want or what I own, or what is mine.
“What gives us meaning in life is to understand there is no substantial, permanent, fixed self. We’re always evolving.”
Problems arise when we try to fix or hold elements in place, like thinking: “I want to be forever young. I want to keep this money, and this money must never leave me.”
When we understand that constant evolution is a natural state, Eng-Kong says we come to understand inter-being — the recognition that we are all deeply connected.