Do you like your partner? Your happiness may depend on it…
My ex-husband and I used to say, “I love you, but I do not like you right now.” We said that a lot.
If I could sum up the failure of our marriage in one sentence, I think that would be it.
I have loved many people in my life, but I have not always liked them. And the same has been true for those who loved me but didn’t exactly like me.
Hell, I grew up in a family that loved me but certainly didn’t like me.
Now that I truly like and love the person. I am married to, I realize the importance and rarity, at least in my life, of what it is to truly like and be loved by someone.
In my daily work, I talk to women and couples about how imperative it is to ruthlessly protect the high regard one holds for one’s partner. To hold them in high regard even when it is tempting not to.
Lately, I realize that what I mean is to ruthlessly protect one’s liking for her partner.
I like my husband. I like and appreciate everything about him. Even the things I don’t like and appreciate. And that taste is what sustains and drives my respect for him. It makes me want to see it clearly. It makes me lean in to hear it, even when I feel so angry I can’t hear it.
My love didn’t always make me do those things in my relationships. Without a doubt, I have deeply loved people without respecting them or what they had to say. My love made me listen only to what was convenient or would help me get a good return on investment. And more often than not, my love got in the way of seeing them exactly as they were.
Loving people is easy. I love a lot of people. That I like them, that I genuinely like them, is more difficult.
Taste, or at least the one that is maintained in marriage, friendships, business, etc., requires more effort. It requires more honesty, more communication, more skill, more vulnerability, more growth, more authenticity, and much more courage.
It may even require entirely different options.
Because liking someone means taking a stand and making a commitment to protect that person from the contempt and disdain that comes when you feel triggered or angry.
It means fighting for yourself, for them, and for the relationship, not against the other person as the enemy.
It means realizing that his hurt feelings and her disgust with her partner are not the same as her contempt and contempt for her.
Most people confuse those things.
It means realizing that having a great relationship begins and ends with being able to talk about very challenging, good things.
Which isn’t always easy to do because we get fired up by relationships all the time! And when we shoot ourselves, we assume the worst in a person very quickly. And before you know it, we are defending ourselves and behaving with contempt and disdain towards them.
Do that enough and we’ll eventually destroy the relationship.
Do you want examples? Here is a non-exhaustive list of what we do when we get provoked and behave terribly towards people we say we “love”:
- Fight (i.e. see them as perpetrators and attack)
- Fleeing (i.e. seeing them as perpetrators and fleeing)
- Freeze (close because they/life is scary)
- Punish (silent treatment, withhold affection or information, lie, cheat, etc.)
- Dominate or manipulate (yelling, interrupting, using your words, actions, or anything against you)
- Use fragility as a weapon (use tears to blame them and make them behave as you want them to)
- Minimize, confuse, or undermine their reality by gaslighting, using word salad, or shifting the focus of the argument so they are defensive.
So if you want to take on the challenge of holding your partner in ruthless high regard–in other words, liking them even when it’s tempting not to–then make it your job to figure out how to see them, flaws and all, while maintaining them, the relationship, and yourself in a positive light and intention.
Stand up for the relationship while acknowledging the break in the connection. In here are some examples of what it sounds like:
“That hurt my feelings! What I heard was __, and I did bad__. Is that how you really said it?”
“I feel so much uncomfortable with what you are doing right now. Please stop. For some reason, it makes me want to lash out at you. Can we think of a way that makes us both feel good?”
“I’m really mad that you did not take care of this! I asked you three times and I felt like you ignored it and did not make it a priority. Can you tell me when this will be handled, and then we can talk about why this was shelved for so long?”
“Sometimes I’m so afraid that something will happen to you that I become controlling and want to control you obsessively!”
And then have a genuine conversation from there. It’s not cross-examination. Listen genuinely without testing them.
Is this easy? No. But you know what is more challenging? Playing out the same relationship angst repeatedly, believing that you are not capable of having relationships, or that you are somehow not lovable enough for someone to love you.
And for those of you who find it easy to say this… you are right! But believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t always like that for me. I honed my skills by doing this with people who rarely treated me like the full human being that I am. I was always tested in conversations with them, but I vowed to learn to see my humanity and theirs, no matter how challenging. I learned to see them and myself, even when they painfully refused to see me.
So choose your challenge. Choose the game you want to play. And if you don’t like the team you are on, consider that you can always pick another team to play on.