We are attracted to each other because of our differences. Then after we have fallen in love, we “pretend” that we are so similar.
Anytime after six months to two years, that “temporary insanity” begins to fade. We find ourselves in shock. What just happened? We begin to doubt who this person really is, that we promised to love and to cherish.
That is our first opportunity to learn how to love the real person we married. Not just the fantasy we created in our own head. It is our first opportunity to move beyond our personal comfort zone.
This is not a sign that we married the wrong person. This is a prime opportunity for personal growth and character work.
This stage of differentiation rocks our love boat!
It can up our anxiety and even cause pain in the moment. It threatens us. Some even view it as anti-love, as abandonment.
Then they react to their misconception.
Intimacy can only be established when there is the freedom to disagree. Dr. Henry Cloud
Without disagreement being welcome, you have just said that all you love about your mate is their agreement. Truly it takes two to create one. How will you know that you are valuing your mate’s uniqueness? As a Marriage and Family counselor I would like to suggest five beliefs that demonstrate that you value your partner’s right to be him/herself.
1. I value my mate’s separateness.
Sometimes you find yourself just standing back and grinning. That’s_________! He/she is not me and that’s okay. My partner has interests that are not mine, opinions that are not mine and moods that are different than mine, and that’s important to me. Frankly it makes life anything but boring. This separateness, which can seem so threatening, is what creates passion and longing in a long-term marriage.
2. I don’t react to a different perspective.
So many of us say things like this. “I wish my partner would open up to me.” Yet, do you really? What happens when your mate dares to tell you they would prefer not to visit your parent’s home this Thanksgiving? Or what happens when they get vulnerable and tell you they feel insecure and afraid?
Do tears stream down your face? Are they confronted with your rage? Does profanity escape your lips? Do you instantly judge and attack his/her character? Do you give them the “stare” and go silent? Do you shut down and withdraw? Do you seek reassurance that the two of you are okay? Do you get so anxious you can’t hear even if your head is nodding agreement? Or do you lay down the law and threaten never to see his/her parents again?
Each of these maneuvers hits our spouse in vulnerable spots. They are designed to make our partner feel guilty and bad so we will get our way.
You seem so open to conversation, but when your mate tells you something you don’t want to hear, watch out. If your partner puts his/her perspective out there, is it guaranteed that one or both of you is going to suffer because of it? Or perhaps you are a partner who says you want the truth yet you don’t really want to know anything that might rock your world. If your partner has an opinion that is hard for you to swallow, you may judge him/her as insensitive and unkind for their thoughts.
The partner on the receiving end of these tactics gets a double whammy. He or she finds they are on the receiving end of an attack because they dared to raise an issue and then they are forced to deal with that issue alone. These are all tactics used in unhealthy relationships. They are about control not love.
Are you really open to your mate’s perspective? If you use any of the tactics listed above, you may not be quite as open as you think. Ellyn Bader and Peter Pierson call these “lie- invitee” choices. Differences may seem insurmountable to you. Where did you learn that?
We find that what topples relationships …are not the problems but the rigidities in one or both partners.
Ellyn Bader Ph.D, Peter Pearson Ph.D
Are you able to stay open to the situation and to your partner in times of disagreement and perhaps disappointment? Do you seek to understand? Couples who are not open to differences often judge each other as “bad” for their preferences. Sometimes they react to their mate’s differing perspective as if it is a personal affront or a deficit of love. It is just a difference!
Conflict is not your enemy!
This is when each of us needs to remind ourself that we rarely learn anything from someone who agrees with us.
Only when “twoness” exists can oneness develop!
Don’t worry when the two of you disagree. Worry when you don’t. The intimacy will have left your relationship. Intimacy has been defined as “into me see.” When you see into your mate’s soul, you will find a beautiful, interesting, separate person who is not you.
3. I don’t assume that my mate’s opinion is all about me.
No one is just an extension of the other. Our partner is not put on planet earth just to make us happy. Hopefully they don’t try to make us miserable, but they are incapable of making us happy. Happiness is our job.
If we only view our partner in terms of how they affect us that cannot be called love.
It must be labeled what it is, self-centeredness!
If your partner is struggling to communicate their perspective to you, you must view that as a sacred trust. Be attentive and patient. Do not turn the spotlight back on yourself. It is about your mate’s truth, even if he/she at that moment is talking about you. If you were standing in their shoes, viewing the world the way they do, their perspective and their feelings would make sense. That said, you don’t have to agree in order to respect your spouse’s right to have a perspective.
Each of us often must confront our own childhood in order to embrace our mate’s right to have a perspective. We often were not allowed one in our family of origin. Our “no” was not welcome. If you learn to allow your mate’s perspective, you will increase in your ability to be empathetic. One cannot love without having empathy.
4. I don’t see differences as abandonment.
If you want your mate to value and respect your right to have a perspective, you must learn that their perspective is just that, their perspective. It is not abandonment. You must be willing to go through the anxiety producing, perhaps even painful moments when you sense your mate is not on the same page as you on the path to intimacy.
You must get curious rather than furious.
The reward will be greater understanding of this extremely interesting and complex person who you married. The downside is that you may have to compromise and even at times surrender your wishes.
5. I celebrate my partner’s separateness.
How will you know when you do that? When you love things about your partner that have nothing to do with you.
Early one Monday morning a couple showed up for their weekly appointment. He burst into my room with these words, “Janet, our “us” likes ballet.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
Seeing my confusion he said, “ I am a hockey player. I am 6ft. 2 inches tall. I love active sports. I have never been to a ballet in my life. In fact you could not have dragged me there before I married Susan.”
He continued, “Well this weekend I took her to a ballet because she loves ballet. I took her out to dinner and then we went to see the ballet. When I told her about the plans I had made, she was so excited. I could tell that she anticipated it for days. I had such fun watching her get ready. She looked gorgeous! We went to dinner. Her eyes were sparkling and her excitement was tangible. It was a new restaurant and what a meal! It was so delicious. Then we went to the ballet. I watched her watch ballet. It gave me such pleasure. I watched portions of the ballet but honestly watching her was the best. I have decided that our “us “ likes ballet.”
What a way to start my week. I smiled for hours. This husband had been willing to leave his comfort zone. Why? Because he was willing to try something that his wife delighted in that was new for him.
Do you celebrate your partner’s interests, hobbies and friends? Are you open to things your mate loves that have nothing to do with you?
How intimate is your love story?
Until our next Conscious Lover’s Blog…