When we love someone we really get to know them, right? We know our parents, our partners, our children. And I mean we really know them: we know their history; their likes and dislikes; their idiosyncrasies. We know what they want for presents; where they want to go on vacation; how they will respond to circumstances and to our own behavior.
Well we think we do. And we think this is a good idea.
I believe we don’t, and it’s not!
“Getting the Love You Want” is a wonderful book by Harville Hendrix on couples counselling which actually relates beyond its target audience to all intimate relationships: it’s also an easy read. My simple interpretation of the basic thesis is that as we grow up we discover things our parents don’t like about us and we suppress them; we learn things they want of us and reward so we start those behaviors; and we create a subconscious persona of self-contempt that arises from not living as our authentic selves. The author suggests that we enter a love-partnership that mirrors our family circumstances in the hope that this time round we won’t have to suppress or create persona. But he adds that unless we are extremely intentional we are doomed to do just that, for our partner is entering the relationship for the same reason, but in a sense from our parents’ perspective. The author suggests that without intentional engagement and work, we won’t deeply see and address this in our relationship, and we will both repeat living in these boxes.
This is overly simplistic, but the points I want to bring out are: (1) we are extremely complex beings; (2) our lives are masks of conditioned behavior, much of which we are not even aware of; (3) we constantly limit ourselves and those with whom we interact; and (4) we don’t and can’t really know the other person – and they don’t either!
To know somebody is to define them in our mind, and this is limiting. If we think we know how somebody will behave or react then that is what we are going to look for and to see, and that is what we are going to respond to. And the other person will recognize this and in turn respond to this part of what they “know” of us. To know somebody in this way is to limit them not just in our mind, but more deeply to limit our whole relationship with them, and to limit their possibilities in relationship with us. It is to put the other person in a box. For so long as we “know” another person they can only be what we think they are, and not who they really are.
So here’s an exercise. Go home tonight to your partner or loved one and look at them with fresh eyes. Recognize that you don’t actually know them as deeply as you think. See something completely new about them, something you’ve never noticed before, and really look at it. When you do this you will realize that you do not really know them. If you make a habit of doing this you will open up the possibility of them becoming a different person, of starting to become who they really are – which is not knowable by you, and will be constantly surprising, refreshing, and really, really interesting.
If you truly love someone you owe it to yourself and to them not to try to know them in this way. Rather you owe it to them to leave this completely open and be truly present and completely receptive to who they really are. This requires considerable curiosity, a lot of patience, and a willingness to keep pulling yourself out of autopilot. But the reward is to see them anew and just as special as the first time you ever met; it is to turn a static relationship into one full of wonder and joy; it is to create room for the other person to become fresh and exciting. It is to allow wonder and joy and possibilities to be present in every encounter you have with them for the rest of you life.
I am very excited about “A New Business Mindset,” a project that includes writings, courses, presentations and a podcast/radio show. If you’d like to learn more about this project and find out how to get involved, visit the “A New Business Mindset” page of my website.