In addition to my work as a yoga teacher, I've also worked in higher education for many years. One of the theories that guides my work comes from psychologist Nevitt Sanford, who developed the theory of challenge and support.
Too much challenge in the learning environment and we become overwhelmed, Sanford concluded. Too much support and we don't grow. Learning and growth happen in that sweet spot between challenge and support. Not only has this theory guided my work as an educator, but I think it's also a great way to view relationships.
In her book, Spirit Junkie, Gabby Bernstein writes, "Relationships are assignments." She goes on to say that, "Through another person we can come to know ourselves." Bernstein describes a challenging relationship that forced her to face some of her fears and to develop new strength.
Here are five ways your partner should challenge you. Does your partner challenge you to...
1. Make Time for Your Practice?
As a yoga teacher, one of my favorite things is when couples attend my class together. A challenging and supportive partner won't criticize you for skipping your practice. Instead, she might offer to join you.
Break out of the date night rut of dinner and drinks and consider attending a yoga class together instead. Holding hands in a movie is romantic, sure, but nothing beats brushing your fingers against hers in Savasana.
2. Pursue Your Dream Career?
A few years ago, I was receiving major messages from the universe that it was time for me to leave my job. I was consumed by stress and it had started to impact my health. My husband supported me 100%.
When I wavered on attending yoga teacher training a few years later, he was there once again to cheer me on, even though I had doubts about my next steps. Does your partner encourage you to stay stuck in a rut or to break out of that bad job situation to follow your dreams and use your gifts?
3. Practice Self-Care?
Recently, my doctor suggested that I undergo a precautionary MRI after a bad headache. I resisted. I thought it was unnecessary, but even more, I didn't want to go into the dreaded MRI tube. Feeling myself making decisions from a place of fear and anxiety, I reached out to my spouse for support.
He challenged me to take my doctor's advice and have the test. All was well, but I'm glad that I overcame my fears to take the very practical step of taking care of my body. Without my spouse's gentle nudge, I might have given in to my fears instead.
4. Balance Your Elements?
As an astrology buff, I know that my astrological chart is very heavy with air. I tend to live in the clouds. My partner, on the other hand, is very earthy. He is concerned with practical matters. Sometimes, it's as if we are speaking two different languages.
After over a decade of marriage, I've learned that all of the elements, air, fire, earth, and water, are necessary for the greater good. Earth energy challenges me to finish things, to find joy in the mundane tasks of life, and to see the great honor in loyalty. I believe that my air energy challenges my other half to think outside of the box, to explore new ideas, and to leave the dishes in the sink once in a while.
5. Overcome Self-Doubt?
One of the strategies that I've learned that helps me get through moments of self-doubt is to get my thoughts out of my head. Having a partner whom you can share your fears with is a great gift. When I'm about to lead a class or workshop and I find perfectionism kicking in, telling me it won't be good enough, I can turn to my spouse and share those feelings.
He never says, "You're right. Don't do it," but rather always cheers me on with encouraging words, challenging me to face those fears head-on.
6. Break Those Persistent Samskaras?
Yogic philosophy tells us that our samskaras are habits of mind that are deeply ingrained on our subconscious, so deeply that we cannot typically access them mentally. Rather, through our yoga practice (asana, pranayama, meditation, etc.), we are able to finally loosen their hold and break our must frustrating habits.
Does your partner lovingly challenge you to release what no longer serves you? Are you able to practice a combination of ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (honesty) in your relationship, gently encouraging the other person to release the ties that bind them?
What are some ways that you challenge your partner? How has your partner challenged you to become a better person?