Love is easy in the beginnings. Over time it’s so easy to start taking each other for granted. We develop habits of how we see each other & we make assumptions instead of being curious.

Love, Luv, Attention, Disappoint, Disappointment, married, partnership, couples, partners, relationships

Love Means Paying Attention & Accepting Disappointment

It’s so easy to start taking each other for granted. We develop habits of how we see each other & we make assumptions instead of being curious. When we don’t feel seen it’s really a big deal & we end up hungry.

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There is a scene in the delightful movie Lady Bird that inspired this episode. The frustrated High School student/star of the movie is in a conversation because she believes she is in trouble with the Head Nun of her school. They had decorated another nun’s car with honeymoon signs & crepe paper for the Bride of Christ. She is totally taken by surprise when the Head Nun reframes her prank as an act of love because love is paying attention.

In episode #42 my colleague Joe Melnick said “It’s like artwork hanging up, that needs to be rearranged in order to see the art again, the way it deserves.” I’ve thought a lot about that since I recorded that interview, I even went home & rearranged a few things in order to truly see them again.

We all hunger to be seen. It’s a basic human desire like needing food & water. That’s what love is feeling seen & seeing another in detail.

Watching my first grandson Tucker who had been alone for 4 years before a sibling arrived; he adored & enjoyed being the sole focus of attention. Now he has to practice sharing attention which is a brand new experience. Once he was King of the hill & now he’s NOT. What a surprise & difficult transition the shift in attention is…..

Watching how my son suffered with the arrival of his sister was unforgettable to me. Watching my son & his wife handle my second grandson’s arrival with our first grandson has been impressive. My favorite moment posted on FB was my two grandsons both swaddled in blankets next to each other. I believe my first grandson has a better experience with the transition of sharing attention & love because his parents have been better at paying attention to it than we were.

My point is that when we don’t feel seen it’s really a big deal & we end up hungry. This definitely happens as the years pass & it’s your job to move the paintings around & freshen things up to remind us of love.

Take for instance; when someone at work remembers you were worried about your Mom’s health & surprises you by paying attention to it. That delight at being asked about your Mom is so nourishing. Affairs are often driven by the excitement of someone new who is paying brand new attention to who you are…..& what matters to you, when others don’t anymore. It’s easy to imagine how satisfying it would be to enjoy the novelty of someone new appreciating you.

I still remember the last compliment from a stranger I got many, many years ago when pumping gas. It makes me smile just to remember it because it was a kind observation. Try turning fresh eyes to observe your partner, what new things might you notice about them?

So restoring the actions of paying attention in small ways is worth doing to improve your relationship survival.

Six ways to stay open to paying attention & improve love with your partner:

▪ Stop making assumptions about what will be said by your partner. It’s a lazy shortcut.

▪ Ask more questions to rediscover whats important to your partner. This requires a bit more effort.

▪ Be Curious AGAIN

▪ Stop pigeon holing who your partner is, and be willing to explore other ideas. Stop deciding you already know.

▪ Try new things together that make you feel awkward & uncertain or Renew effort on old things you both used to enjoy together & have forgotten.

▪ Bring home something or Plan something to surprise your partner that you know makes them smile. In April my husband left flowers as a surprise outside my office door for my 3rd anniversary of podcasting, that location was something he had never done before.

Routines can be deadening it’s why I’ll drive two different ways to go somewhere, just because it’s different, even if one is longer. You want to access ordinary ways to be creative to show interest in your partner. Small acts of kindness that say “I get you”. Renew your interest in something that matters to them.

Now on to the second half of the episode, expecting to be disappointed as an ordinary experience in love. It is beyond foolish to imagine you will never be disappointed in your partner because they are so wonderful & you miss being saturated in romantic love. OF COURSE you will both be disappointed in each other because you are both human beings. We human beings are indeed disappointing, it’s part of our DNA.

I’m going to share a quote from a nonfiction book We Are Not Such Things by Justine Van Der Leun which is about the complicatedness of truth in the murder of an American young woman in South Africa. One of the accused, who’s name is Easy says: “You love somebody, somebody love you. When you going to close your eyes, the person is going to disappoint you. You pray to God, you want a straightforward person, but is a human being. You need inside of you a room of disappointment. You have to have a disappointing room. A little space, but it is not active when you love somebody. I go with the flow, but when the time comes, I got that room.” This is the exact way to cope with the inevitable arrival of disappointment in all relationships.

You need to build a little room inside of you that knows the inevitable disappointment will arrive from all those you love. In the 2017 Oscar Winner for best movie, The Shape of Water Sally Hawkins must accept the loss of her sea creature-lover must return to the sea without her.

We all have ideas of who we want to be & who we expect our loved ones to be. But that’s just it; they are only ideas, mostly built on fantasies & illusions.

I found myself disappointed in the fictional South African detective Benny Griessel when he relapsed after 2 years in recovery & at the same time this is exactly why I love these books by Deon Meyer; because the author captures the struggle of the disease of alcoholism so realistically. One of my favorite parts that I love about reading is the reminder of our own frailty which is echoed in well drawn out characters. Dealing with our humanity can be such an effort, for all of us & it is an act of love.

Stop & consider your own mistakes & shameful acts. We all do things we are not proud of. This effort of taking stock should help tilt you into a more forgiving & accepting frame of reference. Does a week go by without being disappointed in yourself? Managing disappointment is a great skill that will serve you well an entire lifetime. Not managing disappointment is why teenage girls can often be so insufferable, spilling their own misery onto everyone within reach.

Now I want to address something that interferes with both paying attention & expecting to be disappointed:

Projection is when we disown parts of ourselves, not recognizing them in ourselves but projecting them onto other people. This means we think to ourselves THEY are being creepy but of course we are not. It’s like a sty in your eye that prevents you from seeing the other person clearly. Often in couples therapy, one partner will say something that’s really true of themselves. So one partner says “They’re not listening to me” which often means you are the one not listening.

Projection also means you expect people to be like you, if they’re not then you are entitled to disappointment. Here are just 3 examples: I would never forget to say Thank you & let someone who mailed a gift know that it arrived; I’m so disappointed that happened. Well, I would never have posted that on FB without asking so I expected you to be like me. I would never not RSVP to an invitation so why does everybody not get back to me? We have all these ideas that other people should be more like us & we need to whack these ideas down to size with a machete.

If 45% of the population is like you then at least 40% are not like you. Everybody is wired differently. I still remember my mother in law being shocked I would use an unironed tablecloth on the table. It took me years to understand most of our not getting along was really about how much she believed in SHOULDS & I didn’t. Though I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, I honestly didn’t until she passed away. If I had understood I would have been more generous instead of feeling criticized as a Mom with too much on my plate.

To sum up: figure out new ways to pay attention, don’t let routine & habit erase who your partner really is & accept the inevitability of disappointment as a profound part of loving. Project LESS.

My challenge for you today is to ask yourself these questions: How have you neglected paying attention to your partner? Test yourself on what are small things you could do that would be a breath of fresh air to the relationship? How badly have you taken your partner for granted over the past year? What secret disappointment have you been hoarding that creates distance between you & your partner? Can you accept & let go of your disappointment stash because you are able to recognize how you are a disappointment yourself? Have you created a room inside of you to expect disappointment as Easy described in the quote above. & last but not least the next time you accuse your partner of something stop & ask yourself are you projecting & is it really true about yourself?

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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