One of the things that I notice about successful couples is that nearly all of them demonstrate a capacity to not only see the beauty and goodness in each other, but to reflect it back to one another on an ongoing basis. Like the rest of us, these people have their share of “imperfections” but they tend not to focus or dwell upon flaws, and instead, give their attention to the aspects of their partner that they especially appreciate and value. And strangely, this exchange seems to continually grow. Many of them report a shift in their individual self-perception, and they develop a more positive sense of themselves as a result of their partner’s feedback.
We all tend to internalize our partner’s positive perceptions, which often may enable us to override negative self-judgments. Over time and with many repetitions, this process can result in a gradual transformation of one’s self-image. Although happy couples don’t necessarily practice counseling with each other, the outcome of this process is similar to the outcome of a successful psychotherapeutic experience. Their feedback isn’t limited to only positive qualities but also include areas that are problematic. This feedback is delivered with sensitivity and care, without judgment or condemnation, and is only given when it is requested or solicited. We refer to this process as “believing eyes”.
Believing eyes is the experience of having one’s gifts and capabilities reflected back from a someone who we love, trust, and respect, who sees our beauty and goodness, and reflects it back to us, particularly during the times when we are unable to recognize our gifts ourselves. The practice of acknowledging and expressing another’s positive aspects, influences the perception of the person giving the feedback as well as the one who is on the receiving end.
Successful couples frequently provide “corrective experiences” that can allow them to recover from past trauma and emotional wounds that may have left them feeling damaged, inadequate, or deficient. When they bring their believing eyes to each other, they are often able to break the spell of ancient family programming and limiting life scripts that had often been assigned in childhood. In their willingness to take on each other’s perspective, they gradually become more able to see themselves in a very different light. The result is that they eventually became more trusting of themselves and their own value and worth.
There is a widely held belief that it’s wrong for a person to want or need affirmation from others. Resistance to reliance upon others’ validation often seems to arise from the premise that doing so diminishes our authority to accurately assess ourselves and creates an unhealthy dependence upon the judgment of others. Our observations tell us the opposite. The exchange of feedback can strengthen a person’s strength, independence, self-reliance, and resourcefulness. We become more comfortable and accepting of our own interpersonal needs and our need to demonstrate independence or deny our desire for connection.
All of us have moments or days or weeks when we experience a loss of faith in ourselves. These lapses of self-trust are often brought on by external events: a failure, a disappointment, or a loss of some kind. Sometimes they seem to arise out of nowhere for no good reason. At these times when our best efforts to restore a sense of renewed confidence in ourselves fail us, the words of a trusted loved one can provide the encouragement we need to begin to believe in ourselves again.
Couples who thrive are able to give and receive this kind of acknowledgment to each other, particularly during times of stress. Relating to each other from the perspective of believing eyes conveys an implicit yet powerful message of trust, confidence, respect, and faith not only in what we can do, but who we essentially are. A person, who has earned another’s trust and respect, has the power to override the feelings of inadequacy and shame that arise when we are caught in the grip of self-doubt.
These reassuring responses become less necessary over time as we come to internalize and integrate the feedback and ultimately trust more deeply in ourselves. Happy couples continue to bring an attitude of curiosity and inquisitiveness to their relationship. This high level of interest in each other brings out the best in them. Jeanette, a woman we interviewed for our second book, told us that the intensity of her husband’s interest compelled her to bring forth undiscovered aspects of herself, and that in the process, she found herself being more interested in him as well. “It was not just in my perception. He literally became a more interesting person as a result of the quality of my attention.” Her husband confirmed that this was his experience as well.
Believing eyes is the greatest of gifts. When we put our attention on the simple gifts that we exchange with those that we care for our relationship can transform, often without them doing anything differently. It doesn’t cost any cash, only a bit of our time and attention to let those we love know that we believe in their visions, dreams, greatness, abilities, passions, ability to heal, and worth. Where would we be without those who have believed in us over the years? The answer is: Probably not in as good a shape as we are right now. Try it now! What have you got to lose?