Ask Zen Dog

“What happens to your donations”

Zen Dog Columns

Long Term Relationship

Q: I am in a committed long-term relationship with a woman.  We have been together 12 years.  We live together now, but we have always led quite independent lives.  Lately she has been saying we need to communicate better.  That's fine by me, but I don't know what to say.  I tried a lot of things, but it's not working.  She says I won't risk being vulnerable, but I'd risk my life for her.  She knows I love her, she said so.  So, I don't get it.


R: Twelve years is a real accomplishment and a major life investment. We admire and respect the courage of your question, which is how to improve your communication and relate with a new vulnerability.

That you would die for her shows commitment and an ultimate vulnerability. But ultimate vulnerability is no substitute for the proximate vulnerabilities of everyday relating. Your willingness to make the grand gesture obscures what's needed to sense the subtler pangs of existence and becoming. For that an active and receptive listening is required; listening to yourself, your world and, critically, to her. Shed the impervious mien of the hero and listen; listen as a music lover listens for every emotional nuance in a performance of a favoured composer's work. We offer one exercise in listening for you to try several times; it is meant to be an application of your meditation within the context of your relationship, to bridge the gap between your experience and hers and move you in the direction of ever subtler listening.


The idea is to craft a non-habitual body and mind with which to attend to your lover's speech. Trust the relationship; at your next communicative collapse (you will recognize the very moment she perceives you to be closed and invulnerable), ask two things of her:
1. ask her to refrain from imputing to you any motives, reasons, intentions, flaws etc. and then...,
2. ask her to point out with as much specificity as possible, behaviours, gestures, bodily postures, etc. which give rise to her impression that you are closed to her.


Your task is to accept her description exactly as offered, sans interpretation, and to merely observe the relationship between your inward mentality and the sensations of the body as you engage in the behaviours she identifies.  Observe the felt reality of the moment in the body as you hear the unintended message that is being sent.  Search within your own habitual patterns and reflexes to locate the initial conditions which surface as poor communication.  Put zero energy into formulating your responses to her criticisms.  Drop your own defenses and all assumptions about how you should behave differently.  In great stillness, observe the sensations that arise in your body in response to what she has to say to you.  What you experience may not all be pleasant, but go there; take refuge, not umbrage.  Rinse and repeat as required.