Welcome to Part three of this three part series on finding lasting love. If you haven’t read the first two installments of the series, I highly recommend doing so as the elements build on each other.
One of the biggest obstacles to a happy, lasting relationship can be that our own insecurities (as covered in step 1), and filters (as covered in step 2) get in the way of even seeing someone else for who they are. If we’re hiding behind our own walls, how can we possibly see anyone else?
Whether we are looking for new love or in a long-term relationship, if we can’t see our partner, we can’t engage with them in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Our fears and insecurities as well as filters inform many of our emotional interactions. All of our relationships are impacted by this, but since our love relationships are often characterized by emotional interactions, they tend to see the heaviest impact.
We should expect that our partner (or potential partner) has just as many fears, insecurities, and filters as we do. Perhaps a previous partner told them they were a boring lover and now they’ve researched every kama sutra position and aphrodisiac there is. No one will ever call them boring again!
Meanwhile, you’re thinking I don’t want to do gymnastics in bed! Can’t we just have sex? Or perhaps you’re even intimidated by all this expertise – what if they think you’re boring? When both partners are operating from a place of pre-existing (or even newfound) insecurities and fears without sharing them with each other, it’s a recipe for discontent.
Before we go further, though, a gentle warning. Seeing our partner for the whole person that they are is not the same as psycho-analyzing their every action and delivering a diagnosis with little to no input from them. ‘Seeing’ your partner is not an excuse to avoid a difficult conversation, it’s an invitation to have one.
‘Seeing’ your partner is recognizing they have their own fears and insecurities about the relationship and creating a space in which you can share that information with each other. Obviously, in a brand new relationship this would be heavy first-date conversation, so it’s enough in such a case to be aware that your date is a human being who comes to the situation with their own “baggage” and that what they carry is no less valid than your own “baggage.”
If we want to see our partner clearly, we need to train ourselves to enhance our observations of behavior and reduce the ‘spin’ our own filters and fears put on them. In Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication, he notes that, “Judgments of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”
He goes on to say,
“When we express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images, others are likely to hear criticism. And when people hear anything that sounds like criticism, they tend to invest their energy in self-defense or counterattack.” 
If we’re going to change the way we see our partner, we must do more than change the way we communicate – we must change the way we think. We need to train ourselves, internally, to separate behaviors from our interpretations of them independently of when we feel a need to talk to our partner about a particular behavior.
This way, when we do feel a need to communicate on a behavior, we can approach from a point of open curiosity not because we’re trying to lead them to a particular point, but because we genuinely feel that curiosity – “I notice that you do ‘x,’ why is that?” This is an invitation for both partners to understand more about each other, versus one partner having a particular ‘view’ of a behavior that they are trying to ‘help’ the other person understand – no matter how compassionately phrased.
It’s important to me that you know, as a reader, that I do not share this advice from a superior position. All three of these steps are continual work I have to do in my own relationships; all of my relationships. Sometimes I do this really well, sometimes I fail miserably. I feel good about myself for trying, though, and that’s the key thing to take away from this series – the importance of making an effort.
Early on in our marriage, my husband used to wake up on Saturday mornings and agonize about the state of our apartment. “This place is a disaster, we need to be cleaning right now.” I would look around totally dumbfounded, there was nothing different about the ‘mess’ we had on Saturday morning versus Friday night – or Monday afternoon for that matter.
We had many, many weekend arguments about this until one day, after a particularly tumultuous fight-and-make-up series I observed, “You know, I notice this only happens on Saturday mornings. Is there something particular about Saturday mornings that causes an acute sensitivity in this area? Why don’t we have this same fight on like a Tuesday evening, for example?”
After some quiet reflection, my husband shared that when his family moved to this country, because they could no longer afford a maid, his mom would get the whole family up in a frenzy on Saturday morning and they would spend the early part of the day cleaning. Subconsciously, when he saw our apartment as a mess on Saturday mornings, he felt anxiety that we weren’t following this cleaning pattern he had become accustomed to.
That was one half of the mystery. It takes two to fight though – why did I resist his impulse so strongly? The apartment was a mess, why didn’t I just accommodate his wish to spend the Saturday morning hours cleaning?
I shared, for my part, that on the Saturday mornings I grew up with the family slept in and took it easy. It was the first day of the weekend after a long week of school or work and the last thing we did was more work at home. So I had been reluctant to give up what I viewed as my relaxation time.
The important thing to note is that this was also a pattern. These two conflicting patterns, meeting on Saturday mornings, triggered many explosions.
Once we had come to these realizations about our own behavior, we were able to choose how to move forward. I agreed that the apartment could benefit from more frequent cleaning and my husband agreed it would be nice to relax on Saturday mornings. Once we had freed ourselves from these unconscious influences, we never fought about cleaning on a Saturday morning again.
The exercise for this week is a bit more long-range than the two previous installments. Over the next few days and weeks make an effort to observe your partner. Not judge, just observe. Try not to creep them out! J
How do they get up in the morning? Do they seem well rested or always tired? How do they come home from work? Energized and happy? Disappointed and drained? How do they interact with you? How do they interact with others? What are their regular habits and how comfortable do they feel breaking those?
I can’t say this enough (because we all do it naturally), but really try to avoid judging or interpreting. For example, we want to avoid moving from “My partner hasn’t done the dishes in the month we’ve been together” to “My partner is lazy.” The first is an observation of a behavior, the second is a judgment on the cause of that behavior.
The goal of this exercise is not to deliver any kind of evaluation, but to start really seeing your partner in an effort to understand them better.
Even better than just watching your partner is to watch yourself watching your partner. Notice when you have an emotional reaction (especially a negative one) and ask yourself why you feel that way. You may find connections to some of the fears, insecurities, and filters identified in the first two exercises.
It can be invaluable to have this exchange with yourself before you address a behavior with your partner as it will allow you to explain to them “where you’re coming from” versus representing your viewpoint as an objective or obvious “truth” that they seem to be ignorant of.
Keep in mind that, at heart, most people don’t really want to be seen at this level of detail. At least, not by just anyone. However, if you see your partner from a point of love and compassion and not-at-all from a point of superiority, they probably won’t mind being seen so much.
All’s fair, though, and you can’t see them while hiding yourself. If you allow them to see you with just as much clarity and openness, the two of you will have the foundation for a relationship where love is supported by the kind of learning, growth, and sharing that makes relationships last.
I hope you found reading this series worthwhile and maybe found a tool here or there to try in your own quest for love or in an existing relationship. This post was inspired by my own experience with relationships, but the books Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen and Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg provided an excellent and helpful framework for organizing and thinking about my own relationship experience. I can feel their influence in the series overall and this post specifically. I highly recommend those books if you are looking for a more thorough and well-developed structure for the ideas in this series.