A primary law of relationships is that we are not attracted to someone who is just like us.
The phenomenon of complementarity dictates that in general we will be attracted to people who are very different from, or perhaps in some ways even the opposite of, ourselves. The reason for this is simple. Within each of us there is an intrinsic longing to experience wholeness. This yearning draws us to people who are more developed in certain areas than we are.
Unfortunately, the same qualities that attract us initially to our partner can start driving us crazy after the infatuation wears off.
The very lessons that we unconsciously invited this person into our life to teach us, we will resist. Rather than appreciate the opportunities that our partner’s differences provide for us to learn, grow, and expand our sense of self, we are more apt to resent those differences, feel threatened and annoyed by them, and try to get our partners to change, that is, to become more like they should be, that is, more like us!
In the meantime, they are, of course, doing the same thing. Is it any wonder that so many couples get into power struggles?
Tony was a conscientious, reliable, and responsible man. He was always the designated driver when he and his partner, Abel, went out with friends. Abel was a musician. In his work at the recording studio, he was in constant collaboration with creative, artistic people. Tony kept the home fires burning while Abel worked late nights and weekends. Tony resented the unpredictable nature of Abel’s schedule, and the wild swings in Abel’s income rattled him. Abel chafed at Tony’s efforts to get him to change. Tony wanted Abel to lead a more stable life, to drink less, and to rein in his volatile temper. Abel thought that Tony was trying to domesticate him and squelch his creative passion.
They were in a constant struggle for power and control that nearly ruined their relationship. Finally, they each came to recognize the consequences of their battles and the fears that underlay their efforts to control each other. They came to appreciate that they each had gifts for the other, and that although these gifts were not always easy to accept, they held the possibility of deeply enriching the quality of their individual lives and their relationship.
Gradually Abel became more able (pun intended) to be open to Tony’s influence, and he introduced more discipline and focus into his life. He came to value a more restrained approach to relating his dissatisfaction, and rather than blowing up at Tony when he was upset, he expressed his grievances in more responsible and respectful ways. He stopped the chronic outbursts at work that had caused a parade of disgruntled employees to quit. With stable and consistent help, Abel’s business became more profitable. He was astonished to find that he could manage his emotions without stifling his creative expression.
Tony, on the other hand, learned from Abel to permit himself to take risks and become more adventurous. He quit his high-paying job to follow a dream he had denied himself for several years. He enrolled in college as a full-time student. He loved being back in school, and he got straight A’s. He had learned from Abel to give himself over to his heart’s desire and to trust that things would somehow work out.
Whether we consciously know it or not, we have much to learn from, as well as much to teach, our partner. However, some of us are more comfortable in the role of the knowing teacher, others in the role of the receptive student. Those who are comfortable as the student freely and easily open to learn from their partner. But these people may be uncomfortable with the responsibility of being the knowing, accomplished, and capable one.
For those who are more comfortable in the role of the teacher, their stretch is to own their humility. Sometimes, we need to grow into one role or the other.
Ideally in a relationship both partners develop the flexibility to shift from one role to the other, and the wisdom to know when these shifts are necessary. In time, the dance can become so seamless, so effortless, that the distinctions of teacher and student disappear and there are just the two lovers learning from and serving each other.
We come to understand that there is a deep, intuitive knowing that brings couples together in the first place. The best relationships are those in which both partners become adept in both roles, each at turns embodying the wisdom and strength of the teacher and the openness and humility of the student.
Our newest book, That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Got Stronger at the Broken Places, has just been published by Sacred Life Publishers and been receiving rave reviews. Their story is illuminating, instructive, and deeply inspiring. It has been described as being as compelling and engaging as a page-turning novel. The book contains powerful messages that are embedded in its pages that can serve any couple that desires valuable wisdom which can serve them in facing the inevitable challenges that frequently confront many committed partnerships. The book is available online on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. You can also receive a signed copy of That Which Doesn’t Kill Us by ordering directly from Bloomwork by calling (831) 421-9822 or emailing us at [email protected]. The cost is $16.95 plus tax, shipping & handling.