About half way through Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir that picks up her life where Eat, Pray, Love left us, Elizabeth shares a charming scene where she and her fiancé tell each other their worst faults. They lay it all on the line like a test: this is who I really am. Can you still love me?
“Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partner’s faults honestly and say, ‘I can work around that. I can make something out of that.’ Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it’s always going to be pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you.”
~ “Felipe” from Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, “Committed.”
I find the scene charming because my husband and I did the exact same thing. The only difference was we did it on our very first date! But I imagine the same dynamics drove both conversations and that was insecurity born of painful, challenging divorces and other dysfunctional relationships mixed with a deep desire that the new beloved understand what he or she was getting into in order to reduce damage done to the other.
Stop Sabotaging Your Relationship
Honestly, unless you’re a complete newbie to the relationship scene, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve had just one long romance (that may or may not have gone bad) or a string of monogamous (or not so monogamous) relationships; you know the stuff about you that sabotages romance and good loving. You know the places you go to with words, attitude, and actions that drive a wedge between you and your partner, whoever your partner is. Your partner knows those things about himself or herself as well. The longer you’ve been together, the better you know those things about each other.
So what do you do with those things to keep from sabotaging your relationship? And, by the way, sabotage can look as dramatic as the relationship falling apart or as mundane as simply ruining an afternoon or a single day. How do you love the unlovable parts of your lover?
Perhaps I’ve hinted at where to begin? That would be with you. A quick way to turn down the heat of repulsion that your partner’s words, attitude, or actions have engendered is to recognize that you have things about you that repulse your partner as well. Whether it’s the times when you suddenly feel like complete strangers to each other (and not in a good way) or the times certain reoccurring behaviors drive you batty, you are both only human and so you are both going to be guilty of doing or saying things that turn the other person off. Accepting this can help lighten up how you feel about the issue and how you feel towards your lover.
Loving The Unlovable Parts Of Your Lover
Loving the unlovable parts of your lover doesn’t mean forcing yourself to interpret annoying things as charming. Although that is one way to tackle it, love is bigger than that. Love often means allowing people to make mistakes, take risks, do things that go against our ideals while managing the ego’s war inside that would really rather control the other person than make allowances for them.
And so if your lover, for instance, has a habit of taking off their shoes and playing with their feet and toes every night when they settle down on the sofa beside you to watch a little T.V. and it’s something that makes your skin crawl, you have some decisions to make. Do you really need to go to battle over this and make them change their behavior? Maybe so. If so, make it as much about you as you can.
So, rather than blast them for being gross or insensitive, make it about your limitations and how you need them to do this for you. Ask if there’s anything in return you can do for them to make their life with you more comfortable. There’s no easy way to say, “This right here must stop.” But if it must stop, better to make the request than to let discomfort turn into resentment.
However, maybe you don’t really need to turn this into a battle. Maybe you love to suck on those toes when they are freshly bathed and so you think you can create peace inside yourself over this presently irritating habit. Give that a try before creating a battle over this. Work with yourself to see if you can change rather than asking your lover to change. You may not ever like your lover’s habit but even if it can become a neutral event in your daily routine, neutrality can be an expression of loving your partner in spite of this particular unlovable habit.
Open Your Eyes And Heart
Of course, a third option is to join in the fun, remove your own shoes and socks and play with your feet and toes!
Felipe’s advice as Elizabeth Gilbert relates it is really good. It suggests that loving the unlovable parts comes down to facing them squarely and determining with complete honesty whether or not you can accept the bad with the good. At the very beginning of a romance, this can save a couple a lots of time, trouble, and heartache if the truthful answer is “No.” In that case, you can go your separate ways before harm is done.
But if the truthful answer is yes then you proceed with growing the love between you with open eyes and hearts. This practice begun early in the relationship can help you navigate a lifetime of choosing each other as lovers over and over again as each day uncovers the mystery of who you each are in the world and to each other.