What can I do if I always sense a certain distance between me and my partner?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Today people can allow themselves more distance than in the past because partners are not forced to stay together anymore. People aren’t as dependent on one another as they were in earlier times, when there was no social welfare system. What is helpful against this feeling of distance is to imagine that you radiate as much light as possible from your own heart into your partner’s heart or their entire body. Also do this when making love: imagine or deeply feel that you pull the other completely into your heart and hold them there.

I have difficulties getting into a relationship because I always feel the uncomfortable pressure of expectations. What is your advice?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Expectations are a form of attachment. That’s why we should seek to make the other as rich and beautiful as possible. Perceive each other as free people: exchange, give space, share, learn from each other, and come out of the relationship enriched and able to pass this on to others. Make sure that you both can grow, that you can meditate and are not restrained.

Of course there are still deep habits left over from the customs before our social welfare system: the woman stays at home taking care of the kids while the man is outside hunting with a spear or fighting. Women do have greater difficulty with attachment and men with anger—in line with the tantra families. But with today’s social systems, women have the same freedoms as men and do not need to be so clingy, while men in turn can be less angry.

Today men and women can meet as free people, as independent individuals who can exchange, share, learn from each other, and walk away from the relationship enriched. They can then pass on to others what they have learned and experienced. Unfold this power within yourselves.

Is it better to throw oneself completely into a relationship or to set limits at the outset to preserve some autonomy for oneself?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In my opinion, it’s best to dive in completely. But if you prefer to live alongside each other with clearly defined limits—like in a parent-child or brother-sister relationship—this can work out well too, though one doesn’t experience the total closeness of a romantic bond. I think that getting fully involved and jumping in with both legs is far more exciting.

In matters of love, the one who gives everything wins. Love is like a well: the more you give, the more you get. We grow by giving. Naturally, the motivation must be right as well: make the wish that the other grows and develops. Don’t become dependent, but rather stay grounded to be able to give continuously.

People might think that the one who doesn’t contribute anything to the relationship is the winner and the one who gives everything loses everything. But this is not true. Those who don’t contribute also won’t learn anything, while those who give will also gain and grow.

Don’t you think that one needs to set boundaries in a partnership sometimes?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I don’t think so. But you have to make sure to love your partner for everything they are—for their intelligence, abilities, strength, knowledge, and so on—not only for one thing. Doing this, you take on a complete role and there is no need to limit yourselves. However, if your partner gives you no wiggle room, no space to move, you need to set boundaries and make them understand, for example, that you aren’t their servant or mother or something like that.

Every relationship is rooted in old karma. Shared good actions as well as bad actions generate strong connections. In the current relationship, everything positive and negative you did together before will be experienced together as something pleasant or unpleasant. Karma is really strong, and this is why some people can’t get away from each other. If one partner is really difficult and not ready to change at all, and the other partner is suffering due to this, then I do indeed try to help them split up.

It is better to ruin only one life instead of two. This is especially true in the West, where one has a welfare system and isn’t dependent on one’s partner. It is about doing our best—about benefiting others and ourselves as best we can.

Can you say something about the other types of relationships between men and women that are not love relationships?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Observe people closely and you will often see what sort of relationship you could have with them. You can see whether attachment arises and what kind of connection it could be—more sexual, more emotional, and so on.

There are four roles a woman can take on for the man and vice-versa. A woman can be like a mother who tries to parent him. Or if the man and woman simply have a lot of fun together, she’s more like a sister. If she is protected by him, she is like a daughter. And if there is physical attraction, she is rather like a lover.

The woman can perceive the man in the same way. He is like a father if he is a protector, giving security. If being together with him is fun but doesn’t involve too many emotions, then he is like a brother. If he is someone who needs to be protected and nurtured, he is like a son. And if he is physically attractive and the relationship flows well, he is like a lover.

Everybody wants to be the lover, of course. This is more exciting and special. But I can tell you, in my experience—and through the blessing of all Buddhas—ten years later, it no longer matters whether someone was like a sister, a daughter, or a lover to me. No matter how close it was, in long-lasting relationships this is not important at all.

Of course one gives more and is more open towards a person one makes love to, since this is a close relationship. But the lasting qualities are much more important, the qualities of the dharma and the quality of trust. What is really important is to grow, to develop ourselves, and to work together.

There is great blessing in being together, but if there is too much attachment, then suffering and difficulties arise too. The most important is to share the dharma—the development and the growth.

What is the right attitude to have to create a happy relationship in which both partners develop best?

Lama Ole’s answer:

The best attitude in love is to think more of giving than of taking, to wish others happiness, and to try to give what is beneficial. Don’t have too much attachment; rather, share in a friendly, easy way without restricting each other. If you always hold your partner in your mind, it will become less tight and more fun.

This is a long path and takes some time. Since you were born a human being in this life, this means that desire was the strongest emotion. As you become more and more clear headed, pay particular attention to whether what you do is useful for other people, especially if you have power over them. Think about what you can and cannot share with them, what is good now and what will be beneficial later. There are a lot of different things to consider.

At times, one even has to do things that appear quite odd. Drugpa Kunley was a master of this. One day, he was walking along the streets of Bhutan when a young lady passed by. He said to her, “We definitely have to make love. Come with me right now.” She looked at him, unshaven and long-haired as he was, and replied, “Oh!” She ran to the next house and said, “Listen, further down there is a terrible man with lots of hair and a big beard who wanted to sleep with me!”

“You are the stupidest girl in town,” the people answered. “That was the best yogi we have; that was Drugpa Kunley. It certainly would have been fantastic.” And again she said, “Oh!” She went back and told him, “Alright, I have thought it over and…”

“Sorry,” he retorted, “I don’t have time anymore. The moment I offered it to you, a highly realized awareness passed by and I could have fathered you a wonderful child. But now—I’m sorry, another time.”

If you look beyond the personal, you’ll see that things aren’t simply good or bad, but rather they produce happiness or suffering depending on the circumstances. As regards sexuality, if people have the fitting karma, it will be joyful for them. In other cases, sexuality only causes problems—problems in the first relationship, in the second, in the third, and so on.

If you are closely connected to someone else, physically close, then the best thing you can do is to leave freedom to him or her as best you can. This is the true gift in love: to show people their beauty and potential, and to let them be free. Test this out—think of others, not of yourself. This is what is important.

If we look at love, for instance, there are two kinds: one that gives, enriches, and grows, and another that has limits and expectations, freezing things and constantly clinging to the past or future. In this constricting, bad kind of love, one tries to place the other in boxes, saying, “Now that you have married me, you cannot talk to that person and you have to do this and that.”

If people tie themselves together in such a narrow relationship that they completely exclude themselves from communicating with the outside world, this is a sign of weakness and is not good. It impoverishes everyone.

The good kind of love—which is giving and generous, which has the taste of freedom and growth—can be found in those relationships where both partners want to learn and grow together, and each wants the other to develop. This is the case when the man looks at the woman and thinks, “I will turn you into a queen.” And the woman looks at the man and thinks, “I will turn you into a prince.” Here, one doesn’t want to control or limit the other but rather to show them their qualities—their strength, beauty, and potential. This is the right kind of love.

If we perceive all beings as Buddhas and exclude nobody from our love, how can we still have an intense relationship with one person?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Even though immense joy and radiance emerges inside you when you wish everything good for all beings, there are still some people you will be connected to more closely. For instance, in former lives you may have made strong wishes together to accomplish something good. So even if you wish all the best for everybody, even if you do all you can and continuously feel joy and surplus for others, still there are some beings you can help and others you cannot reach. It is like a ring and a hook: if there’s no ring, the hook has nothing to catch on.

You will meet people you have a close connection with and continue to work together, as I did with my wife, with Caty, and with many of my students and friends. Although you continuously experience more and more joy, you’ll notice that there are some people you are more closely bonded to than others.

In other words, if you wish everyone everything good, it doesn’t mean that you don’t wish the very best for the being you are closest to. This is how I experience it myself.

What would you advise to someone who is longing for a partnership but at the same time is afraid of too much closeness?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Examine what type of fear it is. Is it fear of physical closeness or fear of mental closeness? A handy method to find out whether you have a basic physical openness is to ask yourself whether you’d be fine using the other’s toothbrush. If you do feel that the person is attractive and you enjoy touching and watching them, then try to find out how to remove the obstacles.

Start from where the power is. If you mainly find the other physically attractive, start here and check whether this can also be extended to the mind. If you like the other because of their mind, then check whether this can be extended to the body. It is always “the art of the possible”: always start with what fits, and from there see what’s possible.

It is important to examine your attitude as well. If you go in with the approach of “what can I give?” then the relationship will certainly turn out well. If instead you have the attitude, “what can I get?” then it surely won’t turn out well. This is why you should strengthen yourself and make yourself aware of what you can give. See yourself as powerful and capable, and think that you’ll give something good to the partner. Then you’ll be open to everything good that you receive as well. Don’t make yourself small by thinking, “Who wants to take little me along?” Make yourself big and go out into the world.

What can we do if we’re unable to open up anymore out of fear of being disappointed?

Lama Ole’s answer:

This is quite easy. Think of others, of what you can do for them and how you can give them joy. Then the rest will fit by itself.

Don’t think about yourself, but rather think, “Here is somebody who loves me, who needs me.” And then try to give. And while thinking of the other person, you’ll get back your own affirmation and joy retroactively, so to speak. If you only think about what you could experiences or where you are vulnerable, then it’s like driving a car with a load of lead in the trunk: you won’t get far and it doesn’t drive well. Dedicate yourself fully to the task at hand; confidently work with things as they are, and you will benefit.

I think that people do not love enough. They want things to be convenient and don’t push their limits. We should completely plunge into love and experience something—that is precious for our own development.

As an example, I’ll tell you the story of the little philosophical bear cub. When the time had come to learn to walk, the cub was pondering over which paw to move first. The mother came by, and thinking that he had been standing around far too long, she gave him a shove. He went flying forward but then walked perfectly afterwards. The bear cub never came to know which paw he moved first.

With love it’s the same thing. You simply do your best and think of giving others happiness and meaning.

A couple’s love life usually dwindles after a few years. Why is this and is there a way to prevent it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I once saw an article about this that said if after three years a couple hasn’t had children, something in the hormones changes and making love isn’t as fun anymore. Though this isn’t my own experience, it might be like this if the relationship is mainly based on physical attraction.

But if the attraction isn’t only on the outer level but also on the inner and secret levels, then things are different. It is really important to see each other on a high level. Otherwise, the partners stop developing. They turn into each other’s bad conscience and don’t do anything fun together anymore. Everything turns into a habit and their sexuality atrophies. I observe this quite often with people. In these cases, I always say, “Do something fun together. Go on holiday without your children. Create a situation where you can fully focus on each other, like in the past when you had just fallen in love.”

As a couple, try to see each other on the highest level—as a mandala, a powerfield of love. If you try to see the female part as a lotus flower and the male part as a diamond, then the female and male principles meet in the act of union as space and bliss, as inspiration and activity, as compassion and wisdom. If you open up to that, enormous joy can arise.

One should experience the body as pure and as a tool to create happiness and joy. Love is more than just a quarter hour after turning off the TV!

And if you have made love in the morning and leave the house afterwards, don’t try to look as neutral as possible so that nobody recognizes what you have just experienced. Radiate the good vibrations of love out into the world. It is important to pass on everything positive you experience to others.

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.