A most self-aware client, I’ll call her Eve (not her name) sought therapy to discuss a relationship that she was entering and wanted to think it through before it had gone too far. She spoke about the man (her potential partner) with respect and awe but had some fears about whether her value of his work ethic and his mother-wit were enough to sustain the relationship.
Eve was an intellectual, she came from a lower-middle class family with rural roots, so Seth (not his name) was a familiar spirit—personality. She often said that he was all the males in her family of origin wrapped into one. Still, she was not 100% sure that she should continue with the budding romance. Her fear was that the things that she did not appreciate about Seth would show up one day and she would not be able to justify being in the relationship. Although, my very thoughtful client admitted in the early stages of our sessions that she knew what those things were and wanted to believe that she could respect their differences while clinging to the values that he possessed that she admired: humor, industry, smarts, sagacity, athleticism, and entrepreneurship.
Then it happened. One day, in his anger he briskly walked ahead of her as they left a restaurant, and she knew immediately that this was a sign that she needed to abandon the relationship. Of course, she didn’t leave immediately, giving him grace for being sort of rough around the edges. But she knew underneath her graciousness the impossibility of this relationship thriving, and this epiphany brings me to the point of our time together: While there may always be compromises in relationships you need to know that there are some deal breakers other than addiction and physical, emotional, and sexual violence and abuse. Seminal values are extremely important, so don't lose sight of them. Write them down and keep the list where you can read it often.
Keep in mind that when I introduced Eve, I said that she was self-aware. Now, I’ll unpack what that means and how Seth was in too many ways the antithesis of a man truly her equal. In one of our many sessions, I asked Eve to choose from a list of words all of the ones that best describe herself. Here’s what she offered:
Spiritual; Self-aware and self-reflective
Open-minded and gracious; Humble but not insecure
Sagacious; Social but reclusive
Intellectual; Philosophical and Communicative
After she had described both Seth and herself, I couldn’t see the real problem until she shared a whole list of things that he had said and done that were complete turn-offs--“utterly unacceptable” to her. She pointed out that she knew that while he had many admirable qualities that she knew that he would never be comfortable in her world (nor she in his) and that eventually, they would settle more into who they were fundamentally and break up. And for this reason, she offered, “I came to see you because I need you to help me to be honest with myself, look at myself, and take care of myself.”
And we did. The homework was for her to revisit both lists describing each of them 3-times a day to remind herself of who she is and why he could never be her life-partner, something that she truly wanted.
Now, I invite you, Reader X or Y, to make a list of qualities that describe who you are, to remind yourself of what you need in an intimate partnership. Then look past potentials’, resumes, and superficial characteristics and pay attention to the INTERACTION between you two. Are you okay with jealousy, insecurity although there is intellect, humor, and financial success? Can you live with crudity, social and emotional immaturity; although there are signs of kindness and care? If you know you need a communicative, thoughtful, conscious partner, why in hell would you enter into a partnership with someone who is NONE of these things?
My point is that you need to know yourself well enough so that when a nice outward resume shows up, you’ll be able to pay closer attention to the attributes that are from within. If you look closely and honestly want to see it, you’ll see it.
If you won't allow yourself to see it then take him or her around your family, your closest friends, and your pet. Those who love you will certainly see the differences. Of course, you have sensed it too, which is why you will then find me to help you work through it so that you can see it for yourself.
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