The fundamental truth about relationships

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints from my coaching clients and friends about their partners. The summary? They’re finding fault — many faults — in them.

They gripe about the partner that isn’t very verbally expressive, the one that is moody, the one that chews loudly, the one that bangs around in the morning despite knowing it’ll wake his partner up — and that she won’t be able to fall back asleep.

These are the same partners that show up with flowers, that are remarkably reliable, that make breakfast every morning, that will drive – in terrible traffic – to pick their partner up from the airport so as to not waste a minute of togetherness upon their partner’s arrival home from a trip.

And yet.

The list of annoyances and shortcomings trail far out the door.

Not long ago my partner told me that, on a regular basis, I interrupt myself to share a different thought than the one I had been in the middle of sharing. This happens when, in mid-sentence, I see something I want to comment on or am simply reminded of something else that now seems even more compelling to share.

I didn’t even know I was doing it.

Oh but he did. And apparently he’s not a fan.

It stung a bit when he told me. I’m sensitive, and like most, pretty allergic to criticism.

But to be honest, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll change much in this category. I am excitable and expressive and classically extroverted in my incessant practice of thinking out loud. I’ll probably continue to trip on my thoughts to get to new ones and speak a lot of unfinished sentences and share a lot of half-stories. I am who I am.

Which brings me to a point. Which is not a new one, but it’s worth remembering, day in and day out, if we want ease-filled, peaceful relationships, and if we want to be our most gracious, loving selves.

It’s our job to practice acceptance of our partners.

Should we be respectful of each other and mindful of one another’s needs? Of course. My friend’s boyfriend has agreed to try harder to be quiet in the mornings and I have agreed to finish my stories, even if I take a commercial break to share something else.

But at the heart of all of this is just the simple and basic acknowledgment that we are all human. And in relationships, particularly if you’re living together and especially if you have kids, there will be a million teeny things that happen throughout the day — a bad mood, a towel on the floor — that can unravel a connection or can simply be a bad mood or a towel on the floor.

I read in an Oprah magazine article once that when we pick a partner we pick a set of faults. Can you live with his set of faults? The article prompted. I remember disliking the sentiment but agreeing with the premise.

Because the truth is that we all have flaws and shortcomings but it’s what we do about them that changes our love and our lives.

There is an ancient Japanese aesthetic philosophy, rooted in Zen Buddhism, called wabi sabi, in which imperfection is actually prized. Irregularly shaped, unevenly glazed bowls full of cracks are considered beautiful because of their imperfection, not in spite of it.

What if we could look at our partners in a wabi sabi sort of way? Not just accept their flaws but love our partners because of them?

We might see quirks as more lovable, forgetfulness as adorable. On the spectrum of endearing to annoying we would lean heavily towards the former.

Imagine how close we could feel to our partners if we loved each other with genuine, whole-hearted acceptance? How would it feel to be seen, flaws and all, and adored and appreciated—full stop?

This is beyond acceptance. This is the conscious intention to see the beauty in our partner’s humanity. And to hope they see the same in ours.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that if you “pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense,” he writes, “and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform.”

“When our hearts are small,” he continues, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore.”

Every moment is a chance to open your heart big like the river — to fully love, and to see the beauty in the messy imperfection that is our partners, our relationships, and ourselves. And to love them all not in spite of it but because of it.