How a monk’s one word saved my marriage

Written by Ai En
5 mins read
Published on Apr 12, 2023

Editor: This is a two-part series of Dhamma and marriage where Ai En shares her turnaround in her marriage. The second part can be found here !

TLDR: My relationship with my husband was going stale and we both felt a sense of draining affection in our marriage; attending a Dhamma talk was a pivotal change for our relationship.

The salvation of marriage by a monk’s word, of course, sounds dramatic. Nevertheless, it is a true experience that changed things for my marriage.

My hope is that sharing my experience would give couples the courage to talk about their relationship and recollect why they are together in the first place.

Marriage was paradise

When my partner and I first got married, we were both young and naive at the age of 27. Having met in university, we quickly knew we were right for another as we liked the same Char Kway Teow store and loved the same arthouse movies. 

We happily said our vows 5 years after dating because ROM (Registry of Marriage) said we had to do it and not because we thought much of it. 

“Will you love him, comfort him, honour and keep him in sickness and in health and forsaking all others, be faithful to him, so long as you both shall live?” the solemnizer asked.

Such generic lines didn’t hold much value for us, we just wanted to get through the ROM and arduous wedding lunch out of the way and live our lives happily ever after.

Of course, things didn’t turn out that way.

The decline

We started to see growing misunderstandings and conflicts as we lived together. 

Different habits emerged. Different ways of money usage. I love to save while he was okay with moments of YOLO (You-Only-Live-Once) spending (because life is anicca [Pali term: impermanent], so might as well spend it, he believes). I would often chide him for butchering the Dhamma phrase of impermanence to justify random spending. 

We like to think of ourselves as simple people who have had little arguments. However, it was clear we were growing apart. 

We were leading separate lives and took each other for granted.

Yes, we shared a bed, but our lifestyles couldn’t be more different. He worked shift hours while I worked a 9-5 job. I did consulting work while he was a shift-work engineer. 

I felt that caring for him meant supporting all his hobbies and endeavours while he felt caring for me meant giving me gifts. FYI: Gifts won’t hold your marriage/ relationship together.

At difficult times, I silently questioned, “Did I marry the right guy?” I wasn’t sure how long we could ‘stand’ each other in a lukewarm relationship.

One word

As a Buddhist by birth, I am not one to care too much about Buddhism and its practice. The teachings were an afterthought.

However, these marital challenges got me to speak to a colleague who was a Buddhist practitioner and she introduced me to a witty monk, Ajahn Brahm

I skeptically plugged into a recording of his Dhamma talk after she persuaded me. It was on marriage. Below is the excerpt which talked about how Ajahn Brahm solemnises Buddhist weddings and stuns newlywed couples with his humour.


At the right moment in the proceedings, usually, after the rings have been exchanged, I look into the eyes of the new bride and tell her, “You are a married woman now. From this moment on, you must never think of yourself.” She immediately nods and smiles sweetly. 

Then I look at the groom and say, “You are now a married man. You also must not think of yourself anymore.” I don’t know what it is about guys, but the groom usually pauses for a few seconds before saying “Yes.”

Still looking at the groom, I continue, “And from this time on, you must never think of your wife.” Then quickly turning to the bride, I say to her, “And you must not think of your husband from now on.”

Confusion is a very effective teaching device. Once people are engaged in trying to solve a riddle, then you can teach them the answer and they pay attention. “Once you are married,” I explain, “you should not think of yourselves; otherwise you will be making no contribution to your marriage.

Also, once you are married, you should not always think of your partner; otherwise you will only be giving, giving, giving, until there’s nothing left in your marriage. “Instead, once you are married, think only of ‘us.’ You are in this together.” The couple then turn to each other and smile.

They get it straight away. Marriage is about “us,” not about me, not about him, not about her. To make sure they understand “The Secret,” I ask them, “When any problem arises in your marriage, whose problem is it?” “Our problem,” they answer together. “Very good!” I say with a grin.


“Instead, once you are married, think only of ‘us.’ You are in this together.” 

That word ‘us’ compelled tears through my usually tear-resistant eyes. 

My husband and I were living together and yet apart. We were ‘caring’ for each other and doing ‘what’s best’ for either me or him, but never for ‘us’. 

As we stopped seeing ourselves as ‘us’ and instead as individuals, our lives would inadvertently drift apart. Resentment would arise from unfulfilled wants and demands from each other. We resent one another for either giving ‘not enough’ or giving ‘the wrong thing’.

These teachings helped me to let go of my ego to see my partner in a new light. I began to understand that our relationship is not just about me and my needs, but that it is an interdependent partnership. 

It is about us.

How that one word saved us

After the tear-jerker Dhamma talk, I shared the recording with my husband, who also agreed on the state of our marriage. He felt that we were ‘going through the motion’ of routines together. He felt resentful that he was giving so much on one aspect of our relationship while I ‘failed’ to deliver on others. For example, the expectations that I should wash the dishes after cooking for him or him overpaying for some of the expensive dinners we have. 

However, the talk allowed him to reflect on a calculative mindset that was building in him. 

After three years, we felt this pivotal change of understanding about our relationship.

We immediately discussed how we could do things differently as  ‘us’ and not as individuals. We then decided that we needed to do the following: 

  1. Find rituals: Identify meaningful and tangible activities that we can do as a couple and challenge ourselves with. The ritual must be something that ‘us’ can see incremental growth in. Binge-watching HBO Max, Netflix doesn’t count as tangible!
  2. Hold MGMs: Monthly general meetings (MGMs) helped us talk about what we appreciated about one another, how we could improve and also where we would like to be supported.
  3. Meditate at least 2 times a week together: This wholesome activity gave us the opportunity to do something deep and spiritual together. If your partner is non-Buddhist, try to introduce mindfulness-based activities, like gardening or pottery! For us, the 2 times a week as is when our schedules align. Make it work!

These ‘solutions’ arose from the idea of ‘us’ and how we could strengthen that tie between us. 

Our marriage is now happier and more fulfilling than ever before. I am grateful to the Dhamma for helping us to get to this point. Thanks to Ajahn Brahm’s one word ‘US’, we saved the marriage.

I hope that this one word ‘us’ encourages you to rethink relationships that are dear to you.

May you and your loved ones be well and happy always.

Wise Steps:

  1. How often do we take our loved ones for granted? Reflecting on this brings awareness to our blindspots in the relationship
  2. How often do you use ‘we’ in a relationship instead of ‘I, me, myself’?
  3. Find your couple rituals, hold your MGMs and meditate together!

Author: Ai En

A collector of human stories, Ai En is passionate about sharing life experiences and mistakes with others so that everyone can grow in this Samsara journey. Data & A.I. are key areas of hobbies for her.

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