People disappoint. We disappoint. Alone with our imagination we develop expectations and hopes about the other. In the privacy of our fallible minds we quietly nurture the ‘ideal outcome’ of an upcoming situation, only to find that reality falls wildly short of expectations.
Cross. Disappointed. Trapped in your own shortcomings.
Yes, your own shortcomings.
Learning from your partner
Relationship therapists tell us that most couples already know the solution to their problem; if only their partner would be more like this, or like that, then all would be well. The therapist, they think, is just there to confirm their conviction. Over the years I have found that our idea of ‘self’, in relation to others is often biased towards how we would like to be seen, rather than how we are.
Jane and Jake* come in to therapy. Jake is genuinely in awe of Jane’s financial acumen and respectful of her knowledge. However, on a day-to-day basis he easily falls into a lazy Jane’s an idiot behaviour, without even noticing it himself. We don’t know why, and Jake certainly doesn’t like to think of himself like that. So when in therapy Jane says; “you think I am an idiot,” Jake jumps to his own defense, after all, he knows how much he respects her skills. Jake concludes, once again, that Jane is strangely insecure, and that they wouldn’t have these fights if she was more confident. He is right, and he is also wrong.
The way we regard and value our partner, parent or child at our deepest core is often not what we communicate. And when that discrepancy is pointed out to us…. the other is the one being a pain in the arse. Without reflection we jump into our own defensive or aggressive narrative. Jake’s job is to bring inner value and outer communication closer together, and to explore why he unconsciously tries to put Jane down. And Jane needs to ‘know’ her own value and not make it dependent on whether Jake acknowledges it or not. Then she can choose when to show compassion for his need to ‘better’ her, and when to say confidently, ‘hey, stop treating me like an idiot’.
Life would sometimes seem to be so much simpler lived alone. But then again, we seek companionship, we have ideals, and we always have an agenda, whether we acknowledge it or not. We are genetically coded to interact. To guide and teach one another. And more often than not that teaching comes in the guise of being a pain in the arse to someone, or having someone else be a pain in the backside to you. I used to pray for the strength to be a ‘good’ person. How do you gain that strength? NOT by having lots of kind, helpful and submissive people around… I’m just saying. Watch out what you ask for.
Relating is messy
To put it bluntly, relationship equals strife. The art is to distinguish between constructive and destructive strife. And to do that, we first need to discipline our own destructive tendencies.
Buddhism teaches about loving kindness, and rising above the destructive expression of our own or others’ suffering and disappointment. That’s not the same as being nice about it, pretending it isn’t there. False kindness can be choosing the moral high ground and yet seething within. Sometimes setting a clear boundary can come from a place of deep love. Temporarily shutting down communications can be a compassionate way of saying that you are refusing to engage in or contribute to the neurotic behaviour of the other. And then again, it can be cowardice, refusing to let the other be the grit in your oyster, ignoring the opportunity to learn.
Long term relationships can be the greatest teachers, if we let them. No one knows us better than the people we choose to share our lives with. If we want to relate deeply and meaningfully then we need to be prepared to get our hearts broken, our hands dirty, our noses put out of joint. If we accept that the other is here to teach us, to develop those inner pearls of wisdom that make every relationship worthwhile, then slowly but surely we may each move forward while serving the other.
* Jane and Jake’s situation is made up.