Letting Go In Relationships
This series of blog posts focuses on some of my reflections on the nine foundational attitudes of mindfulness and how they relate to interpersonal relationships. This week is an exploration of letting go.
When we practise letting go, we allow both the pleasant and the unpleasant to come into being, change, and fade away – moment by moment. Instead of clinging onto an experience that has passed, we can embrace the next moment. We need to let go of the past in order to embrace the present. Change is intrinsic to our very existence and yet we often try to deny it and avoid it. In relationships we might want our loved ones to stay the same forever. Perhaps we feel sad when our children start to grow up and become more independent. Perhaps we long for the honeymoon period of a new sexual relationship. However, although change brings a bittersweetness, when we allow ourselves to let go of the way a relationship was, we create the space for the new to emerge. We can appreciate having more adult conversations with our children, or the increasing depth of understanding and connection with our partner.
Letting go is also about letting go of expectations, or at least holding those expectations more loosely. We often have expectations about people ad relationships without even realising. Perhaps we need to recognise and let go of our ideas about how other people ought to be. We are bombarded, through the media, with messages about what romance should look like and how friends, family members and partners ought to behave. When we buy into this we can become irritated when our partner doesn’t buy us flowers, or when our mother doesn’t bake, or when our friends don’t want to spend the whole day with us hanging out in coffee shops (I grew up watching Friends!). However, when we let go of our ideas about how people ought to be, we can allow people to be as they are and appreciate them in all their uniqueness. We can notice the romantic gesture that our partner does that nobody else would think of; we can notice the act of kindness from our mother that proves that she is thinking of us; we can appreciate the fun moments that are unique to our own friendship groups. We let go of comparison and appreciate what we have.
Letting go of anger and resentment
As well as letting go of the tendency to cling onto the pleasant, in relationships there is often a need to let go of past hurts, regrets and arguments. This is not a passive acquiescence but a letting go of the toxic build up of resentment that only leads to our own suffering. I used to have a very difficult neighbour who was often quite verbally aggressive towards me and some of our other neighbours. Now this was clearly unacceptable and not something I would condone, but holding onto resentment wouldn’t harm anyone other than myself.By practising compassion I was able to let it go. I didn’t become best friends with them but at least I wasn’t carrying anger with me once I had left home. With people we are closest to, it can be tempting to hold onto past resentments and keep rehashing old arguments over and over again. This can be very damaging. Fortunately, in some respects, I have a notoriously terrible memory, meaning that if I try to argue in this way I lose!
The next post of the series will look at generosity.