The other day, I was talking to an acquaintance -- let's call her "Angela" -- about her marriage. She said that recently, she'd been surprised to hear from her husband -- let's call him "Martin" -- that he'd been feeling as dissatisfied as she was with their relationship.
She'd been frustrated by Martin's emotional unavailability, as he'd become more and more silent and withdrawn over the years, and Martin was equally frustrated, but he couldn't quite put a name to the problem.
It turns out that what was bothering Angela's husband was her absence: not her physical absence -- she was an excellent cook, homemaker and help-mate -- but the fact that over the years, she showed him fewer and fewer of her real needs, feelings, preferences and dreams.
Angela had become a shadow of the woman that Martin had chosen, and as a result, had become as emotionally unavailable to him as he was to her. For her own reasons, Angela was too afraid to impose her feelings and demands on her husband. Sadly, by not doing so, Angela had been giving Martin less and less of who she really was, and he found it less and less satisfying to be with her.
In romantic relationships, love is a necessity, but it's not enough. You can't assume that simply loving each other will create a satisfying and lasting bond. The other essential ingredient in any romantic relationship is intimacy and without it, things will become stale, stagnant, frustrating and unfulfilling.
Intimacy can be defined as "knowing and being known." It involves seeing and accepting each other for who you really are. Without this deep understanding and appreciation of each-others hopes, dreams, beliefs, preferences, feelings and needs, your relationship remains shallow and unsatisfying.
Anyone can cook, clean, buy groceries and give emotional support. Anyone can be a parent or bread-winner. These roles are fairly generic and equally appropriate for platonic roommates. What takes a relationship to a level of profound trust and closeness is the presence of intimacy, whereby two people know, understand and accept each other thoroughly.
It's wrong to think that your partner simply tolerates certain things about you. In a true, intimate relationship, they should celebrate your unique qualities, even if to other people, these traits might not be all that attractive. That's what makes you and your partner a good fit.
The particular preferences, habits, quirks and mannerisms that make you a unique individual are exactly what your partner initially should have found interesting and attractive. They should have chosen you because of these traits, not in spite of them, and they should now find them at best, adorable and at worst, charmingly exasperating. There's no reason for you to dampen them down.
If over time you begin showing your partner fewer of the qualities that define you, they'll start to feel that they're losing the best of you.
If you're bossy, opinionated, moody, or demanding; if you're stubborn, disorganized, or compulsively tidy; if you're a computer geek, an extreme sports fan, a chronic insomniac, or a tightwad with money, these are all essential aspects of who you are, and your partner should be able to accept all of them -- even appreciate many of them. If they can't, neither of you are going to be happy.
Of course, this doesn't mean that you have free rein to be as selfish, obnoxious, impulsive, or irresponsible as you want. Rather, it means that you don't have to try so hard to conform to some idea of what you think your partner expects of you. Everyone is an individual, and your partner should have chosen you because, overall, they're happy with the things that make you, you.
Intimacy requires authenticity, because if you're not real, the other person can't see you for who you are. If you're never authentic, other people will be interacting with a persona, and you won't be loved for your true self. Even if you're in a relationship, you'll be terribly lonely.
If you start off being real and then begin holding back, like Angela did, you'll be depriving your partner of the qualities that made them choose you to begin with. Over time, they'll become terribly lonely.
To be authentic means being vulnerable. It can be scary to be real because what if someone doesn't like the real you? When the other person doesn't want you, rejection can be extremely painful. But there's another way of looking at it. If a prospective partner can't accept you for exactly who you are, it means that the two of you are incompatible, not that you're in any way deficient.
You don't have to see yourself as inadequate, just because someone you like doesn't return your affections. The truth is that as a couple, you aren't a good fit.
It will be a lot easier for you to be open, vulnerable and authentic, if you stop taking it personally when you encounter someone who can't fully accept you. It hurts to be rejected- no-one can say that it's pleasant- but it doesn't have to be devastating.
If you tried being real in a previous relationship and it didn't go well, you could choose to shut down or you can summon up your courage and go for it again. The great thing about human nature is that we have such a wide and varied range of preferences, and that even within one individual, there's the capacity to like, and even love, a lot of different types of people. The next person you meet might just find your particular mix of traits immensely desirable.
There's nothing to lose and everything to gain by being authentic in your romantic relationships. The more real you are, the more you'll know that the other person loves and values you for exactly who you are. Initially, it might make you feel vulnerable to open up and show this person your true self, but then, once you know that they fully love and accept you, imagine how great that will feel.
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