My partner doesn’t share my attitude concerning Buddhism, which creates more and more problems between us. Do you think the partnership still has a future?

Lama Ole’s answer:

You can find out this way. If he loves you and you tell him that Buddhism is beneficial for you, he will develop a positive attitude towards it too. But if you tell him that it’s good for you and he still rejects it, then he is either jealous of the dharma or he is an egoist who is afraid you’ll become so strong and independent that you don’t need him anymore. If this is the case, you can confidently exchange him for a newer and better model.

We can check a lot of things in life this way. If people are happy when you are happy, they are friends. But if they only want to have their own ideas reinforced, and they have problems when you change and no longer fit into their ideas and schemes, then you cannot trust them.

If my partner dislikes Buddhism and this creates real crises in the relationship, should I make compromises and reduce how much I practice? Or should I practice secretly?

Lama Ole’s answer:

No, that would probably be pointless. If your partner can no longer be jealous of the practice, he will be jealous of the Bridge evening or anything else you can think of doing. It doesn’t help anybody to remain weak and to block our own development. It is mistaken solidarity to stay in the same hole as others when we have the chance to get out. It is better to trust our own abilities and to strengthen ourselves. Then later in life, we can help others out of the hole too.

If both partners practice but one makes faster progress—which depresses the other—what should we do?

Lama Ole’s answer:

We should try to strengthen the we-feeling and consider ourselves a totality. Then both can profit from the experiences of the other. If sometimes the woman is ahead, she carries the man along, and if the man has found some strength, he motivates the woman. As long as one thinks “we” instead of “I,” there are no problems at all. Both know what the highest level is and where the goal lies—and both identify with it. When couples practice, they can complement each other very well.

If there is strong attraction in the relationship but a conflict erupts around nearly every topic, does the relationship have any future?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If arguments happen too often and too loudly, then we can certainly get along better on our own or with another partner. If we always have different opinions and fight over every little thing, there is always a loser and a winner. We cannot build anything on this in the long term.

You and your partner should have a common foundation and shared goals you can agree upon. Otherwise nothing can develop.

What can I do if my partner often gets angry?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If he is angry, tell him how silly he looks. Tell him, “You should see yourself, standing there flailing your arms, saying weird things, shaking your head, going up the wall, making funny noises.” These shows are far too dramatic for an audience that is far too small and ungrateful. A great performance with a puffed-up chest and rolling eyes is wasted in front of an exhausted wife and two puzzled children in the kitchen. Tell him, “We need a worthy audience for you. This is way too much for us alone! Let’s get the neighbors. They should see it too.”

We have to tell people when they are making a fool of themselves. Tell him to keep the trip to himself, that you don’t want to have it. Tell him that you like him, and this is why you don’t want to see him being so stupid and weak.

My partner has become quite difficult and quarrelsome. Our relationship doesn’t work very well anymore, but he never wants to talk about our problems. How should I deal with this?

Lama Ole’s answer:

If talking is not possible because the levels of experience are too different, then one can apply a few tricks to relax the situation. You can tell yourself, “I only spend a few hours a day with him, whereas he is with himself day and night, poor fellow.” You might also remind yourself that you can train patience with people like him, and without patience there’s no enlightenment. You can try to see everything he says as a mantra. Even when he grumbles and grouches, you only hear Om Mani Peme Hung or Karmapa Chenno, Karmapa Chenno.

As to why people are difficult, this is often because they have problems with themselves. They have so much pressure inside themselves that they try to create external counter pressure by starting an argument with others. You can consciously remove the pressure—for instance, by leaving the room every time he is about to start to argue with you. Tell him, “This isn’t my table; I’m not serving here today.” You are friendly, but act very superficially the moment he tries to pull you into his trips. You simply don’t engage.

If he doesn’t find anything to counteract his inner pressure, he will explode at some point. That’s when the inner problems will come up, and only then can you start talking about them, working with them, and thinking about how to go on from there.

Or he may find some other people to argue with. Then you can act as the referee rather than the enemy. You can bring in your female wisdom, and he will listen to you. However, there’s one thing women should be mindful of if they don’t have children. They shouldn’t act out their suppressed urge to educate their partner. This can make him behave in a moody and dismissive way just so that you’ll leave him in peace.

The best we can do in this case is to only share the good things with each other. Whenever things are smooth, you are with him, and whenever they aren’t, you get a couple of books to read. Life is too short to get caught up in bad moods. We go into the garden when the sun is shining, and when it’s raining we stay away. And if we think the sun is shining too rarely, we can still think of moving on to another place with better weather.

Is it possible to control our sexuality and to use it in our practice? I myself experience it as a rather uncontrollable energy.

Lama Ole’s answer:

This is the age-old question of psychology. People used to think sexuality was just there and that we couldn’t control it. Today, we see it as part of our totality instead of thinking of it as a loose cannon shooting in every possible direction. We can awaken it, calm it, or guide it in the desired direction.

During sexual union, I sometimes experience that the energies spread out and also rise up a bit. What can one do in this moment to benefit from it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

As a good student of mine, you should do what you always do: think of everything pleasant as a blessing that you want to pass on to all beings, and everything unpleasant as a purification and a teaching on how to help others. Whatever happens, we rest in it, enjoy it, and don’t create strange ideas about it.

Then if it appears naturally, we can expand it. You might know the energy centers in the body: four fingers below the navel, in the navel, in the heart, in the throat, and in the head. If we perceive energy in one or another location, then we pull the energy towards the heart and from there radiate it out to all beings. If we bring the experience to the center of our chest at heart level, then it works in the most well-rounded way.

If we have a lot of thoughts in our heads and can’t come to rest, then we pull everything down to the heart and radiate it out from there. If there is a lot of energy in the lower chakras, then we also take this energy up to the heart and radiate it out from there. Wherever there is surplus, pull that to your heart and expand it. If we can give up the feeling of separation between ourselves and our partners, then some of the general energies in the lateral channels of our body will enter the central channel. This then results in different states and experiences of openness within the body.

The same happens if one learns to hold this state in meditation, filling up the entire upper body from the heart and the lower body from the navel. In meditation, most of the time it happens through openness and dedication, through courage and joy. In love, it happens through the female and the male complementing each other. But we also shouldn’t create too many concepts about it since it isn’t easy.

Why do we in the West have problems with our relationships so often?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It’s true; problems in relationships appear often and divorce rates are high. There are many reasons for this. In former times, public social welfare didn’t exist, so one had to rely on the extended family and had to stick together. There was no professional training for women either, and quite often they weren’t allowed to have their own wealth. That’s why a woman without a family couldn’t live on her own, and couples who hated each other stayed together anyway. Today, the state steps in, freedom has increased, and people are no longer economically dependent on one another.

However, this newly gained freedom brings disadvantages as well. If we change partners, we often experience the same difficulties we had with the former partner simply because it’s our own personal disturbances that come up each time. We should have dissolved them the first time.

Moreover, consumerism is widespread these days. For instance, cars and clothes are consciously made in such a way that they quickly go out of vogue. We want to have something else in only a couple of years. Unlike in the past, manufactured things today do not last very long and fall apart much sooner. When things can be replaced more easily, I think people consider replacing human beings and partners more frequently too.

A real weakness in today’s partnerships is the attitude of expectation and the thought of “What can I get?” It is better to think, “What can I give?” Space is limitless and those who give will always grow richer. The water stays fresh if it is always replenished from the well. In contrast, those who only take and safeguard what they have will grow ever poorer. If they look down into their well, there is nothing but five dead frogs.

Whenever you tell me that you always have to give so much, I tell you to be happy and to give even more: show your greatness, be boundless, and never expect anything in return. What really counts is to be spontaneous and effortless. Enlightenment is nothing else but to stop hoping, fearing, and wanting.

The moment our mind is spontaneous and effortless, resting in itself without expectation or fear, everything shows itself. It is like a cup of coffee: at first it appears murky, but when the cup is no longer shaking, we can see through to the bottom.

Here’s another good example that may sound a bit cliché—may the ladies forgive me—but that’s why you won’t forget it either. Reaching enlightenment is like trying to get to know a beautiful woman. If you run after her, she will call the police, but if you park your BMW at her front door and leave your checkbook on the car roof, she is going to come on her own. It is just like this with enlightenment: if you run after it, you will not reach it, but if you relax in the here and now, then things will come by themselves.

If a relationship falls apart, should people stay together for the children’s sake?

Lama Ole’s answer:

This depends on the quality of the relationship between the partners. Nobody benefits from ill-tempered, joyless parents who feel like victims because they had children together at some point. In my opinion, this is an escape from life. Neither the partners nor the children feel good about that. Children get along better with a single parent than with parents who argue or even play their children against each other. This way, they can be together with one parent and then the other, as they like.

If the children are small, it is best to try to stay together at first. If this doesn’t work, they should separate rather than gluing together something that doesn’t fit. They should never forget to speak nicely about each other, and for that, a certain distance is essential.

Sometimes people come together only as a result of their shared karmic debts. They make love on a hot summer night, the woman gets pregnant and has the child, and all of this is because of old karmic debts that need to be paid to another being. In this case, they have to work with it as well as possible, but the situation shouldn’t make them and everyone else unhappy.

I would check whether my partner is my friend—whether we are developing together and making good wishes for each other, or whether he or she can only see me in a restricted role. On this basis, you can decide what you want to do. This life is only one among countless lives, and since that’s the way it is, one has to think beyond the present lifespan. What matters in the long run is real development.

No doubt, for the spiritual development of the partner and the children, it’s best if both parents are around and share the work. One parent might look after the children while the other has time for meditation. This way, we don’t have to cut back in any way. We can even develop well, which in turn benefits everybody.

My husband has allied himself with his parents against me and everybody is nagging me. I really want to leave, but I’m afraid they have already influenced the children so much that they won’t want to come with me. Could you give me some advice?

Lama Ole’s answer:

What I am going to say may sound wild, but I would like to introduce a few new thoughts—to add a few keys to the piano so that you have more options to work with. Maybe you’ll make the usual choice of quarrelling with the husband and the parents-in-law. But I’d like to offer you a wider range of ideas, and you can decide what to do.

Basically, I’m of the opinion that one should suffer as little as possible and cause the least possible suffering to others. I suggest you set up your own life with your own friends. Treat your husband like the weather, which you cannot influence. If it rains, at least the grain is growing, and when the sun shines it’s nice. That is, enjoy what you want to have and swallow down what you don’t like.

If he speaks badly about you in front of others and behaves in an unacceptable way, kick him out. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life. One shouldn’t waste time dealing with difficult things. Children prefer to be alone with their mother instead of constantly seeing their father speak badly about their mother.

If the children don’t want to come with you, then consider this an advantage. You can start over again and build yourself a new life. The children will come back when they are old enough and able to think for themselves. There will be some days when your husband plans on doing something but cannot leave the kids with their grandparents. Then maybe he’ll ask you to take them for a weekend.

For the children, it is better to remain in one place until they are able to think independently. At three or four years old, they already know very clearly what they want. If they can be corrupted by their grandparents, who have a lot of money and who can do everything for them, then this is simply their personal karma, which might be stronger with the grandparents than with you. But at least you can be sure that you have done your best.

I want to break up with my partner because the relationship has been deteriorating for a long time, but I know this will hurt him deeply. What should I do?

Lama Ole’s answer:

For relationships that are structurally dysfunctional or have a misdirected path of development, I would like to quote the most elevated English post-war prose: William Somerset Maugham said that a relationship is over the moment you wouldn’t want to use the other person’s toothbrush any longer.

For me, this is the crucial point in love. As long as you are still happy to use their toothbrush, the foundation of the relationship is alright. If you can’t do this any longer, then the relationship is over and it’s best for you to withdraw in a friendly way. End the relationship as well as you can to enable both of you to meet as friends in future lives. It is of no use to either him or you if you hold on to the relationship out of motherly or protective feelings. The quarrel that follows will be ten times worse.

Don’t sacrifice the most beautiful years of your youth for somebody who isn’t open or whom you cannot share anything with. You will waste year after year thinking of Handsome Hans while sharing your bed with Eric. Be honest with yourself. If you stay, it won’t help him either since he won’t be confronted with situations he has to take a stand on. He won’t have the chance to become a better person.

How can we see whether a casual fling has the potential to turn into something permanent?

Lama Ole’s answer:

My first piece of advice is to be careful not to get pregnant. If this happens, a relationship can become closer and more real than one might wish.

My second piece of advice is to find out what sort of relationship arises. Does something timeless develop, such as intellectual interests or the wish to benefit the partner or to benefit others together—something that is beyond personal? If this happens, it isn’t something conditioned or only a temporary connection. Your relationship will always help and benefit yourselves and others.

If the relationship stays based on watching soccer games together or going to the movies and having nice dinners, then you won’t build up anything permanent together and it won’t last long.

What is the best way to deal with a separation?

Lama Ole’s answer:

It is very important to understand that if we separate, we don’t get back the years spent together. This is why we should consider them a success from the outset.

In a relationship, there is always either development or purification. If we have shared a lot of good things together, such as empowerments, then this positive energy definitely has to be maintained between the two of you, while wishing the other person all the best. Then the separation is no longer a breakup but just a change in relationship. Then the former wife can turn into the sister, mother, or daughter, or the former lover into the brother, father, or son.

Furthermore, in a difficult relationship, you can learn a lot about what you don’t need to repeat in the future. If you experienced something painful, then remember that mutual karma is dissolving here. You might have done something similar to the other in a former life. The principle of cause and effect is at work in everyone’s lives at all times. If one performs a harmful deed, one will certainly have difficulties afterwards.

And to avoid generating new suffering, it is very important not to create any new negative connection by breaking up in anger. Otherwise, you will meet again and again in future lives, always repeating the same mistakes.

Please always make good wishes for the other person. Good wishes will help yourself and the other, no matter how badly you have been treated. A smart person forgives and cuts through—that way there is no bond left. Both partners can always decide to focus on what was good and to highlight what made sense. Everyone creates their own heaven and hell.

In my former relationship, a lot of negative things happened and the relationship ended in an argument. Is it possible to do something afterwards to dissolve the difficult karmic bond?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I only know of one good way to end a relationship so that both partners walk away enriched. We have to get used to wishing the former partner everything good all the time from the outset. If there is any win-lose thinking involved, nobody will be set free. Simply make good wishes as a matter of principle; give everything good and be really generous in sharing possessions. The only exception is if the other person is taking advantage of your generosity. In that case, negative habits would be encouraged in them, and it’s best to cut through instead.

But when two modern, talented, and humanistically minded people separate because their shared good karma is exhausted or they haven’t created new good karma together yet, then I would advise separating in such a way that both people win. Both should feel good afterwards and they should remain friends. Feelings of loss and restriction shouldn’t be connected with it, because then we carry along all the difficulties we experienced. If it has been quite a while since the relationship ended, you can wish the other everything good from a distance.