Why the Law of Impermanence is Key: Non-Attachment in Relationships

When it comes to relationships, I’ve found that it is vital to retain a certain level of non-attachment.

Notice that I didn’t say “detachment.” Non-attachment is different.

Non-attachment is a term for anicca, which is the buddhist concept of impermanence, something I’ve been learning a lot about during my experience here on Hawai’i. I like the term “non-attachment” because it’s a pretty good approximation of what the original Pali word means.

The concept of anicca (pronounced “a-ni-cha”) is a concept that has been around for thousands of years as one of the major ideas in Buddhism. Basically, it means “impermanence.”

To be clear, I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, but the more I grow to understand and put into practice this concept, the less suffering I experience in literally every area of my life. (I tend to use pieces of different belief systems inasmuch as I find them effective.)

You see, I have this bad habit. (Well, multiple bad habits, I suspect, but let’s deal with just one for now.)

Here’s my habit: when I’m in a relationship, I often analyze my interactions with the other person, their responses, my responses, and try to come to reasonable conclusions.

There are some upsides to this approach, but there is a hidden downside. By coming to logical conclusions, I unconsciously create an expectation of future events.

Yes, you read that right. By using reason, I can still perpetuate suffering.

Here’s why: it’s possible to cling to anything, including reason. And by clinging to reason, I was also clinging to the results of my own reasoning. This would all be fine except that (and you may have noticed this) life is not always reasonable. It can be absurd, unpredictable, and sometimes downright stupid.

The Antidote

So, how do I consciously reduce this tendency? As we already know, clinging to a certain outcome always brings suffering in the end. (Don’t believe me? Try it.) The only constant is Change, which is why non-attachment is my key to peace, happiness, and yes, even joy.

I’ll provide an example.

Say, for the sake of argument, that I was seeing someone who was very special to me. And say, for the sake of argument, that she and I have excellent chemistry, shared interests, and an open flow of communication. I may even see this person as having excellent longterm potential as a relationship partner.

Now say that she is struggling with her past and allowing it to rob her of enjoying life in the present. What if she got scared or overanalyzed the situation? What if she even used the F word that no man in a relationship wants to hear? “Friendship.”

If any of these things happened (again, purely for the sake of argument), I may be tempted to go back over our relationship and try and look for signs and draw logical conclusions. But again this is fundamentally flawed.


Because humans are not always logical and are often far from reasonable. If, for instance, a suspension bridge had failed, drawing logical conclusions based on hard data would be a fantastic idea, but people are not bridges and their inner workings cannot be inspected with a microscope — which is where non-attachment comes in.

When I look a such a situation with non-attachment, with true anicca in mind, I see it as merely one crest of a massive, ever-changing wave. If something happens that I feel aversion toward, I could feel bad. But that response is a choice. If I am conscious of that choice, I can choose to focus on anicca instead, the fact that “this too shall also change.” In the same vein, if something that I want to happen does not happen, the natural response to this is to feel suffering, but again, that response is a choice. (Over time, I’ve even realized how this feeling shows up in my physical body. For me personally, it usually shows up in the form of a tightness or anxiety the pit of my stomach. If I ever wake up with this feeling, I know there’s something bubbling up from my unconscious mind that I need to observe and release.)

Not only do my relationships flow better when I remember the Law of Impermanence: everything flows better, because integrating anicca changes my relationship to life itself. By remembering in every instance that all is changing and “this will also change,” I can free myself up to see reality in a new light, a truer light, for here is the Grand Secret:

Anicca is fundamental to the nature of the universe, and once I began to grasp that, everything changed.