After 30 years of marriage, and a near divorce, this is what I learned
May 29, 2021The Bradley Hall
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Relationships are complicated.
While there is a lot of great advice and examples of how to navigate a successful relationship, there is one idea that truly stands alone, in my opinion.
Our psyche is complicated. So complicated than men, and more recently, women have been arguing about it for thousands of years. So complicated that that psychology has splintered into several smaller schools of thought, each with their exceptional theories about consciousness, as well as their propensity to ignore specific questions about life they cannot answer.
One thing is for sure; our entire existence is created by our perception. The world is as we see it. It seems legit enough; of course, it is how we see it, right?
Not so fast. It is indeed how we see it. However, the caveat is that it is how each of us sees it, individually, and we all see it differently. No need to protest. Here is an example.
At the scene of a busy intersection, there is an accident. There are seven eyewitnesses. How many stories will the police officer taking their statements hear? That’s right, seven. Each will tell their own story about what they saw happen. Each will perceive and mentally record the event differently.
This isn’t up for debate. It’s the way it is.
Think about it. How can two people look at the same image or symbol and have two completely different emotions and opinions about them?
Now the more in-depth answer to that is somewhat complicated and part of the continuing debate, but the simple explanation for the purpose of this article, is perception.
So, if the world is as we see it, and each of us sees something different (no doubt based on variables such as our past experiences and our temperament/personality), then isn’t it reasonable to apply this to how we see each other? Of course, it is.
How many times have you disagreed with someone’s opinion of another person? It happens all the time. “I don’t know how she could be with someone like that!” or, “He told me that he’s trustworthy, but there is something about the guy that I don’t trust.” or “I don’t see why nobody likes this person, I think they’re amazing!”.
It happens all the time. Everyday. This is because of our perception. But wait, there’s more!
Deep in our minds lies what we call the unconscious. In this unconscious is stored a vast myriad of complicated fragments and pieces. We often tend to unconsciously (of course) project these out into the world.
Here is an oversimplified example. Chances are you have some phobia that extends back to your childhood. You may remember the incident, you may not remember the incident, but it’s still there. This could be something such as a small child; a dog bites someone, or, perhaps, they just had a traumatic incident with a loud, scary, barking dog. Now, as an adult, they may be frightened of all dogs. It isn’t because every dog is dangerous. It is because they are projecting their experience onto every dog. They perceive them as dangerous.
This is extremely important to understand for many reasons, but for now, let’s focus on our relationships.
There is also more to this. There are several theories about the constitution of the unconscious, along with how each element affects what we project and onto whom. Still, for now, we’ll discuss this in generalized terms.
We need to focus on, entirely only, that we don’t see the other person in the relationship for who they are; we see them as we perceive them — the difference is monumental.
Often, this can be thought of as intent vs. perception.
Think of a time when your perception of what someone intended didn’t align with what they intended.
When I was in middle school, I was at the lunch table fiddling with a ketchup packet. We were talking and being goofy (as all middle school boys do). I had wrapped the ketchup packet around my finger and pushed the ketchup to one end; then I would flip it around and push it back to the other end, and so on. Eventually, the integrity of the packet gave way, and the ketchup shot up and out. Some of it got on the ceiling. Some of it got on Mr. Watt’s nice clean dress shirt.
Well, I got into serious trouble. No one ever believed it was an accident. Probably rightfully so. I was, after all, an obnoxious 8th-grade boy who, given a suggestion by my buddies sitting at the table, probably would have busted the ketchup packet on purpose without giving it a second thought. But that isn’t what happened. However, because of the teacher’s perception of 8th-grade boys, I was punished. To this day, my mother still believes it was done on purpose.
In my own relationship struggles, I have been guilty of this same thing. Fifteen years ago we were unhappy. We almost divorced. I won’t speak for her (though I could because we’ve discussed this so often), but I can tell you that much of my unhappiness came from this very problem. I didn’t see her for who she was; I saw her for who I wanted her to be, a task no human being could ever live up to.
No doubt, my traumatic childhood distorted my lens through which I view the world, particularly the people in it. I wasn’t unhappy because of who she was; I was unhappy because of the way I perceived her. I had a specific idea of how people should act in particular situations. I had this image of what a wife should be. When she didn’t meet that criteria, I was disappointed. The critical aspect is that I was disappointed because of comparisons made with a fictional character in my head. Because of this disappointment, I couldn’t see the beautiful qualities she did have. Those qualities were overpowered by the frustration and negativity I experienced.
Today, I appreciate her for who she is. I understand that she need not always show love and affection to me how I think she should do that. I’ve come to see her better for who she is. I’ve learned the way she shows her love and devotion. Because I work so hard to see her for who she is, my gratitude is amplified in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. When she does the littlest things, I understand where it’s coming from. I can see that she loves me. This makes me work all that much harder to not only continue to learn more about her (it should never stop) but to work to show her how much I love her. And because she has learned to do the same, it becomes a non-stop, perpetual cycle of admiration and affection.
Now, it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. We’re human, and our unconscious and our ego still conspire to complicate our lives. It may always be that way. It’s a process for sure and not a destination, but it gets better every day. It’s not only nice to be seen for who you truly are, but it’s actually nice to understand that I’m growing and honoring the people I love by undoing my preconceived bias and seeing and acknowledging them for who they are. Because, honestly, there is no greater display of love, in my opinion.