Seeing Your Partner as Your Teacher
In our work with couples, one of the most universal frustrations we hear about relates to one central theme: why can’t my partner see it MY way? It usually goes something like this: I know MY way of seeing things is right, true, and correct, yet I can’t seem to get him or her to understand this! How can they be so ___________ ! (insert your favorite negative judgement of your partner here).
What is the deepest meaning of this frustration? And how can we use our awareness and wisdom to break through this judgement into deeper levels of intimacy and love?
When we fall in love, our spirits soar, and we are capable of extraordinary vision, unselfishness and sensitivity. Our normal defenses melt away and our hearts open wide. But at some point we enter another stage where our egos manage to assert themselves in the relationship. And when that happens, our concerns shift: what’s in it for me? Am I getting MY needs met? Are you really as wonderful as I thought? Are we really NOT compatible? Are we NOT as alike as I thought we were? Distance replaces the blissful union of infatuation, and instead of a host of harmonious blendings of values and ideas, differences may appear glaring. The consequence of the ego taking over is that our pure loving hearts shut down. The ego typically is afraid to surrender control, for that would mean changing. So the ego fiercely defends its turf: I am right, you are wrong. I see the truth, you are obviously deluded. We don’t do this to create problems. On the contrary, there is a profound disappointment that accompanies the loss of closeness, and at the deepest level we desire to return to that state of oneness. If we can’t spontaneously experirence that union, the next best thing is to try to change our partner and make them more like us.
But once the egos take center stage, a power struggle often begins, with each person defending their point of view instead of listening to the other with empathy and genuine concern. What can a couple do who recognizes they are in this combative energy? How can they regain their openness to love? One very important shift in attitude is to see your partner not as your adversary, but as your teacher. Remember that your partner is really the most accurate, honest mirror you have: you can rationalize to yourself, you can hide your truth from your friends, your colleagues, and even your therapist, but you cannot hide the truth of who you are from the person who lives with you every day. Whether you act heroically or like a two year old, your partner is there to witness it all. They, better than anyone else, knows your demons and angels.
So the next time your ego kicks in, ask yourself these simple questions: what lessons are here for me to learn? How can I shift into learning, receptive mode and see my partner as my beloved teacher? It all boils to this: do you want to be right, or do you want to get along? Do you want distance, or do you want intimacy? Do you want a shared companionship, or a battle for power and control? If you chose love, it can be helpful remember that while your perceptions may be DIFFERENT than your partners, they are rarely better or worse. No one in an intimate relationship has a corner on absolute truth. Everyone filters the universe through their own unique experiences, desires, and tribal backgrounds. Viva la difference! This is what creates our unique dance and enriches our relationships. In reality, you don’t want your partner to be clone of you. You need to understand your partner’s different perception of things, because for the most important issues in relationships, perception IS reality.
So adopt an attitude of curiosity and wonder as you seek to understand before being understood. Put your ego’s concerns aside, and take time to truly listen, without judgement or expectation. What IS it like for this person to be in relationship or live with me? What would it be like to see the world as they do? What does it mean that they are absolutely convinced that the way they view things is so obviously self-evident that nothing else could possible be real? Open your heart again to seeing them freshly, as if for the first time, with a humble demeanor. In doing so, you invite your partner to do the same, and you shift the energy between you from combative to collaborative. As your ego recedes, your heart opens again and you truly be present for each other as the beloved who is sharing a journey of awakening.
We can never truly put ourselves in our partner’s skin and see the world as they do. But what we can do is listen to their truth - the only truth they can possibly have – and in the process learn amazing things about ourselves: what we project, what we distort, what we need to learn to become a more loving partner. It’s not a problem if you disagree or see things differently, as long as you can honor each other’s truth. If you can listen in this way and honor each other’s truth, solutions to problems will often spontaneously emerge out of the common ground of understanding that you have created. And while you may have a special teacher that guides your spiritual life, your partner is often the best, most honest teacher of daily living and intimacy that many of us will ever have.
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