As part of my professional training, I spent many years studying psychoanalytic theory and technique. In short, my job was to help my clients examine past relationships for the purpose of understanding their present ones. The goal of the therapy was to develop Self-awareness.
After years of clinical work helping people to develop insight into them-selves, I gradually began to realize that while my training offered me a wealth of information about Self -development, it did not teach me about the complex nature of commitment, collaboration and the challenges of human partnerships.
My understanding of how two well-defined individuals come together and achieve the true intimacy they desperately want was further broadened after many additional years of study and training in various environments.
Your Self, Your Partner
Let’s begin with the obvious; a relationship is only as good as the people in it. If you enter into a romantic partnership with a partially defined Self, chances are excellent that you will look to your partner to make you feel whole- a recipe for disaster and a poor excuse for being in a relationship. It is not your partner’s responsibility to fill you up and make you happy. Each of you must do that for yourselves.
Once you have made a deep commitment to love and nurture your Self and your willingness to grow, you may be wondering – as I did at the end of my psychoanalytic training – what role you play in contributing to a healthy partnership?
In order to have a true intimacy, you must not only be responsible for your Self, but also do everything you can to help your partner grow to their optimum potential. Your partner is a unique individual, different from you, and your role is to support whatever inspires them, not for your benefit but for theirs. You must encourage their need for self-reliance as you do your own.
How To Love Your Partner
Let’s take a look at some of the things we can do for our partners on a regular basis. It is important to bear in mind, however, that by giving to your partner you are not undermining what you must continue to do to develop your Self. Nurturing your Self and your partner simultaneously are necessary ingredients for a healthy partnership.
- Accept your partner unconditionally. This means not trying to change them and recognizing that change will only come if they desire it.
- Ask your partner for their point of view. Life within a healthy love relationship means the co-existence of both points of view.
- Encourage your partner to unfold in their own way, not yours.
- Make room for altering values, tastes, needs, and careers.
- Empathize with your partner. Feeling that you identify with their experience will bring them relief and a willingness to share themselves.
- Express joy at their successes and compassion for their pain.
- Let go of judging, interpreting, analyzing and defending your point of view.
- Listen attentively to your partner. The gift of your attention and understanding will make them feel valued and validated.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. Your partner cannot read your mind.
- Always do things that give your partner pleasure and create a safe and nurturing environment.
With years of clinical work and study, introspection, two marriages (one failed and one successful) under my belt, I have a deep respect for the ongoing challenges of making a committed partnership work. A loving relationship is much more than understanding one’s Self. It is about the rewards and strains of giving and taking, and of living separately side by side. This is not a journey for the weak-hearted!