DO WE REALLY SEE OUR PARTNERS?

September 8, 2021
One of the most difficult things to accept when I got divorced was that someone I had lived with for 15 years, loved, shared a home and a bed with, taken vacations with, spent Christmases with, and raised children with didn't want me anymore. If someone could feel the way she did about me, knowing me intimately for that length of time, maybe I was just undesirable and difficult. Maybe no one who really knew me could ever want me.

But there is another possibility. Maybe we lived together for 15 years and she never really saw me? Is that possible? Toward the end, I felt like she was seeing an exaggerated caricature of me, and not what was really in my heart. Perhaps the way she saw me was more about her than me.

I don't discount the idea that sometimes our partners are mirrors that can help to show us who we are--good and bad. It is a good idea to pay attention to what out partners teach us about ourselves.
Having said this, how is it possible that you could live intimately with someone for a decade and a half and not really see him or her? How could one person miss the godlike qualities in another for such a long period of time?

"Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not[.]" (Jeremiah 5:21.)

It's actually surprisingly common. John and Julie Gottman cite research showing that the average American married couple spends only 35 minutes per week in conversation. I would guess that most people spend more time than that on the toilet.

Even those who are talking more, may be missing what is truly special in the other person. They may be spending most of their time judging and critiquing rather than appreciating and understanding. Could this criticism be a "beam" that prevents us from seeing our partners clearly? (Matthew 7:3-5.)

The dominant thoughts of my mind about any individual will define that person in my world. If I choose to dwell on all of the things that irritate me about my spouse, pretty soon I will think of her as nothing but a huge collection of idiosyncrasies and quirks, and will find it hard to be around her. But that is not all there is to it. She has many other qualities I COULD choose to pay attention to. I could choose to pay attention to the moments when she is generous and affectionate and wise. If I fail to see those things in her, I really fail to see her at all.

The things that prevent us from truly seeing others are our own biased and subjective interpretations. Prophet Joseph Smith wrote: "[T]ruth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning." (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24-25.)

Truth consists of the facts we know. What is "more or less than" truth is our interpretation of the truth. A fact might be that my wife is 5 foot 9 inches tall. If I was only 5 foot 5 inches, I might think she was "too tall." Or she might think I was "too short." Either of those judgments would just be subjective interpretations. She is simply the height she is. There is no right or wrong to it. If I was dating her, my interpretation of the acceptability of her height might get in the way of my "seeing" her.

How often do our subjective judgments, which we mistake for immutable truths, prevent us from seeing amazing possibilities. What about your loyal best friend that is more of a "brother." If you think of him this way and are unchangeable in your opinion, you may miss out on other possibilities.

I urge you to be authentic and vulnerable in dating--in order to see others and make yourself open to being seen. If you were in a lengthy marriage where you were rejected at the end, and this is causing you to doubt your own worth, I urge you to consider the possibility that your spouse could not see you--not to suggest that you are perfect or flawless, but only that you are valuable beyond measure. Remember that another person's judgment of you may be worth considering, but it is only their opinion. It does not necessarily represent the truth about you.

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