As we all know so well, getting intimate with someone involves also getting intimate with their wounds, their fears, insecurities, and triggers. Learning day by day how a new love interest operates and handles life is a learning – and loving – curve. Can you handle what comes up for them gracefully? Do you become irritated or resentful when their issues arise? Can you stay warm towards them even when they aren’t at their best? Or, are their triggers and issues legitimately beyond what you can take on? Are they willing to open up their inner world to you, or are they guarded and confrontational when you get too close?
For many of us, there is a tendency to feel disappointed, shocked, angry, or confused when a new partner ‘falls from grace,’ when their stuff starts to show. Maybe it’s a “whoooaaaa, this person is so insecure!” Or “that cold edginess feels terrible!” Or “being with this person feels like a little too much too fast!” Suddenly that aura of radiance around your new love interest starts to crack a little bit. The reality of their human-ness sets in.
Starting to see imperfect aspects of the person is a natural process. And while it is a bit messy, getting past their facades, their outer persona, and the way they carry themselves in outer life and into their real, raw self means that you are getting in closer and getting underneath their mask. That is worth celebrating!
It is important to remember that all defenses are a response to stress. Often the defenses and idiosyncrasies that bother us the most about someone are their responses to long-term stress (like the stress of growing up with an authoritarian father or the stress of being neglected in some way throughout childhood). Long-term stresses like these form defense patterns that can take years and lots of work to unravel. These defense systems are something that will most likely not shift overnight. They will take patience, compassion, awareness, insight, and willingness on the part of the partner. To stay with someone and be happy with them, you’ll have to love them despite their imperfections and in-process messiness.
If you find yourself wanting their deep, ingrained patterns to change overnight, think twice! Crystallized patterns like these took years to form! If you pressure the person to change before they really can or are ready to, you will likely alienate the person and create pain and confusion in the dynamic.
The way your new love interest handles stress shows what their weak points are, and what their conditioning is… it does not show who they are in essence or who they may become over time. If they are willing to engage, defenses can change, responses to stress can change, and the person can grow in ways that you wouldn’t believe! Being with someone who can hold a compassionate presence (that’s YOU, hopefully!) can greatly accelerate this type of change.
I love this quote from Asleigh Warner, “Beneath every behavior there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling there is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.” 99% of people focus on the behavior they don’t like in a new partner. I hear a lot of stuff like this: “she isn’t clear what she wants, she leaves all the decision making to me and it drives me crazy.”…“He shuts down after a fun night together, it’s a total dealbreaker for me.” …What if instead you looked beneath the behavior to the unmet need in the person? Life is far more fun that way, believe me! For me, learning to be generous and loving towards my partner in the areas where he struggled, rather than withholding love because he wasn’t doing something I wanted him to, was a total game-changer that enriched our relationship beyond measure.
These voices in our heads that judge and criticize our partners are fear-based and ego-based. They also may reveal that we have a subconscious tendency to use power dynamics (as in, I’m better than you and therefore I’m safe) to keep ourselves protected from deep, transformational love.
What I recommend to all who are questioning the value of your relationship is to look at your own experience …feel into whether the relationship is helping YOU to mature, to become more integrated, to stretch yourself. Is being with the person activating interesting new inner territory, is it calling you to grow in new ways, are you learning about yourself? Are you growing your capacity to give and receive love? Are your outdated beliefs and assumptions about love being challenged? While uncomfortable, this is good growth! This is the beauty of relationship…it can change you to the core.
Now, of course I’m not saying to throw all caution to the wind and stay with someone who is unsafe for you. I encourage you to feel also into whether you feel safe in the relationship. Do you feel supported, cared for, and seen by the person? Do you enjoy who they are, most of the time? Or, is it all about them and their needs over yours, or do you feel totally alienated and scared and not yourself when you’re with them? Don’t stay! If you friends are worried about how unbalance and depressed you’ve become being with the person, or how unrealistic their expectations are of you, listen to their concerns!
But if there is warmth between you, and a sense of newness and possibility, don’t throw the whole thing away because they can’t always communicate perfectly, or they have some minor irritating behaviors!
It is only over time that someone’s integrity is revealed. Only time and a supportive environment will show whether or not they really have the desire to shift their long-held defenses. It is not how many healing books they’ve read, how intelligent they seem, or how much yoga they do that shows what they are really made of…the quality of their character will be revealed in the way they are willing to face life with you, the way they engage with themselves when their own blind spots show, and the way they love you when you are the one not feeling your best.