The very best gift you can give anyone you love is to embrace all of them. On the surface this sounds so simple, maybe like a giant hug or a trite greeting card, “I love you warts and all.”
Truth is, the longer you are in a close relationship with anyone, the trickier it is to open your heart to them and see everything within them as something you can accept with curiosity and interest. We all think it's easier as time goes by, but it takes a lot of serious consideration to avoid the pitfalls inherent in a close relationship.
When you’re in a relationship with someone you love, there are always disagreements, adverse reactions and frustrations. This is normal. The other person acts contrary to your wishes and you get frightened. You wonder how you can trust someone who may not always seem to prioritize your interests. Parts of you may feel fear and other parts work hard to keep you safe. Unfortunately, we don't always realize this is happening inside us.
Here are five steps to help your loving relationship become a richer, less anxious experience.
Check your beliefs: Do you really know all about your beloved?
The expectations you hold in the beginning of the relationship often create a difficult situation as your loving relationship ages. You might originally believe that once you truly know each other well enough to make a commitment, you’re done. You love each other and you get along. You've had some deep conversations that you agree about. Then you can feel safe and trusting and sail off into the sunset.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work this way. The presumption that you have gained significant insight into everything that makes up your special someone can later create serious problems in a long term loving relationship.
First, if you know “everything about them” and have decided that what you know has made you love this person, then anything dissatisfying you learn as the relationship progresses feels like a betrayal. And second, there’s no room for curiosity or discovery of your loved one.
Notice what small conflicts mean to you.
A lack of curiosity combined with anger from small but repeated problems in day-to-day disagreements and differences wear away at your happiness.
Your loved one may have a habit you dislike and they keep pursuing it. Or they don’t pursue something you believe is important, like their healthcare, education or career moves. You grow critical and upset with this person you really love. Even worse, when you make requests of them, you get an argument back.
This is exactly when shifting your perspective is important. You don't have to agree or even acquiesce to your loved one's opinions. But if you catch yourself making a story about how they are now against you, stop and take notice.
Slow down and breathe. As a human being, you are biologically predisposed to watch for danger. Danger does not have to mean physical harm or violent emotional threats. A loving relationship is so important, any disruption to your harmony is scary. When you have anxiety about the other person’s presentation, you will naturally be on the lookout for what you dislike and probably try to snuff it out as soon as possible.
The more you start noticing negative characteristics, the more you assign them as personality traits to the person you love.
You will likely start hearing yourself making negative statements about this person. This sounds something like:
He’s so selfish.
We are complete opposites.
She is an anxious miser who won’t spend a nickle.
That lazy goat would rather lay on the couch than anything.
I live with a complete neat freak. Nothing can ever be out of place.
He is a workaholic and doesn’t care about me. And so on.
Catch Yourself If You've Become A Caricaturist.
You know those artists at tourist destinations who draw you as a cartoon? They surround your tiny body and huge head with a few descriptive props or exaggerated physical characteristics to capture you in one quick glance.
Caricaturists might draw your curly hair winging out to the sides with lightning bolts to capture your extroverted nature. Or they add a tiny but muscular body with a soccer ball at your feet, a tennis racket in your hand and a barbell in the other to show your love of sports. Perhaps they represent a reader with giant glasses, a book in hand and a sleeping cat cuddled alongside.
Look at how you are mentally representing your loved one.
When you hear yourself saying sweeping generalities about someone you love, it is important to take a good look at your words. Imagine actually drawing what you say and believe about your significant other. Your words create a caricature of your loved one. Take a breath and consider your words and beliefs. You will, indeed, find shreds of truth in what you say. Most likely you will have quite a lot of evidence to back up your ideas.
As cute and amusing as they are, creating caricatures like these presents a liability in the long term relationship.
First of all, you subject yourself to consistently derogatory remarks about someone you love. This exposure makes it difficult to consider this person in any other way.
In addition, when you define your partner in negative, limiting terms, it's not unusual for you to be assigned the opposite identity. For example, if your partner’s image is the “miser”, believe me, you’re going to be the “spendthrift”. If they are “lazy”, you’re going to be the “hyper one”. And if they are “boring”, you are likely “difficult to please”.
Here is a person you have loved for years, but you can no longer experience a calm interest in them. Your focus is turned away from their real nature. And when you do look toward each other, you only see the caricatures of one another your fearful and angry parts have constructed.
And here's the thing: No amount of emphasizing the other’s negative qualities will help your frustrations diminish. In fact, you are probably going to heighten and increase those very things you would like mellowed out.
Sadly enough, all of the beautiful parts of you and your loved one are in effect “locked up” because you can no longer see them. So what if they just gave $100 to the charity that came to the door? You’ve decided they are miserly. So what if they just came home and cooked dinner for you? You know they are basically selfish and greedy. So what if they try to park further from their building so they get in a few more steps a day? Your truth is they don’t care enough to be healthy.
Remind Yourself How to Love A Whole Person.
Get curious about your loved one and curious about your reactions. Imagine how incredible it will feel when they can discover you anew each day. Enjoy the combination of the known and the as-yet unrealized in your person. Question rigid assumptions about them rather than drawing what might be a very shaming caricature of them.
In this way, your beloved will not need to hide from you or feel stuck in your projected image. You, too, can feel more of an alliance each day as you see and are seen. It’s not easy, but over time you will feel more like yourself and so will your partner.
And that’s something to fully embrace.