“Things would be just fine, if only he would change X,” or “If this problem was gone, everything would be perfect.”
Do you ever say things like this? I know I have. I have held the belief that if my husband was different than he is, then we could have the relationship we were “meant to have.”
This way of thinking is based on the myth that frustrations and imperfections are aberrations on the relationship you should be having. Or that problems are a distraction, a marring of something pure and untainted. When in fact there is no such thing.
Arielle Ford, in her book Wabi Sabi Love, goes so far as to say the imperfections are the key to healing. She applies the ancient Japanese aesthetic–which honors all things old, worn, weathered, imperfect and impermanent–to relationships. According to this outlook, there is beauty in the flaws. For example, if a vase is broken, it should be displayed on a pedestal with a light shining right on the crack.
In the same way, Ford suggests that we embrace the flaws in our partners. By finding beauty in their “cracks,” we are able to heal our relationship. If we see the gift in each problem, we open the way for new perceptions, new paradigms, and new solutions to transform the dynamics.
Great concept, but doesn’t this sound like “settling?” In the past, I might have said that finding the positive in the negative is just a way of tricking our minds into accepting the unacceptable–a coping mechanism of the “stuck.” Or worse, looking on the bright side was an insipid form of self-deception and avoidance of reality. This was the opposite of what my work is all about: digging deep and facing the dark side.
Now I see that honoring the imperfections is in fact a profound way to use reality–not the dream–as the starting point for all transformation. In the same way that therapists “meet the client where they are at,” relationships must deal with what is real.
This means no judging, wishing, or fixing—just seeing and accepting. Any spiritual approach to love knows that only by accepting something as it is truly is, can it ever change.
How accepting imperfection works:
How does this work exactly? Well, we all have emotional wounds which carry energy. Like a magnet they attract into our lives those with different emotional wounds. In particular, we are drawn to partners who exhibit disowned parts of ourselves. They act like the parts of us that we loathe or find unacceptable.
By honoring these qualities in our partner, we accept them in ourselves and thus access compassion and love. And on top of this, as we grow and stretch to honor the other’s sensitivities, we become better versions of ourselves.
In fact, according to Dr. Harville Hendrix, the very fact that your partner drives you crazy suggests you are in the perfect relationship to heal. (For more on this theory and Imago Therapy, click here.)
For example, let’s say Jane and Ed have different issues around money. Jane grew up without a lot and values saving to feel secure. Ed wants to live in the moment and be open to new experiences through traveling. He spends money, she doesn’t.
If Ed can hear Jane’s need for security and value this not as a burden or a restriction, he may be able to learn other ways he can live in the moment without spending money. Or if Jane empathizes with Ed’s desires, she may also find new ways to find security in addition to saving money.
This is how each meets the other, growing along the way. They no longer need to react from old paradigms, but can problem-solve creatively.
And it all started with acceptance of the other’s “flaws.”
The Art of Embracing Imperfection:
Practice lightheartedness. Is there a way to use humor? Ask yourself to be humble in the face of your partner’s shortcomings. It’s funny, right?
Put on rose-colored glasses and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Research by Dr. Sandra Murray at the University of Buffalo shows that donning “rose-colored glasses” and idealizing our partner leads to more happiness and satisfaction in a relationship. The happiest couples focus on what’s right, not what’s wrong. In what is known as the Pygmalion effect– the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. So focus on what makes your partner so unique and observe how the positive expands.
Keep a Beginner’s Mind. Wipe the slate clean every day and see things as they are in that moment, nothing more. Letting the past into our perceptions prevents us from being present to reality. Things will feel far less loaded, and there will be space for love.
These three steps are simple, yet not easy. It is like meditation. Patience, practice, and only experience can give us the deep shifts. Little by little it is possible to truly transform your relationship from a place of complete acceptance.
The paradox is that the more we accept something as it is, the more easily it can change. It’s counter-intuitive for sure, but it works!!
Try it out and let me know how it goes in the comments below!