by guest blogger Pam Fullerton, psychotherapist and writer
Last week I was hurt because of something my husband said to me. I felt hurt, but at the same time, he felt frustrated and misunderstood. The evening ended abruptly. For me, it had been a lovely day spent with a good friend. That evening, I sat outside with my husband sharing the goodness that came from my day. The weather was beautiful, and we were enjoying a glass of wine together. The abrupt ending to a lovely evening was one of those dreadful, unanticipated moments that happen in relationships. (I know you may be wondering what it was my husband said to me, but that’s not the important point here. Do keep reading!)
Do you remember what it was that you fell in love with about your partner? Most of us do. I would guess that one of the things my husband initially loved about me was my sensitivity. Sensitivity has many positive aspects, such as a deep capacity for empathy, thoughtfulness, and caring, and I’m sure that he continues to love my sensitivity. But here’s the thing, the sensitivity that my husband loves about me is probably sometimes also the bane of his existence (he has never expressed this to me, but I know it can be challenging for him). In most cases, I am able to get the clarification that I need to move out of my hurt. But I struggled this time. The next day, I was able to recognize the meaning of what he said and how he meant it. I did acknowledge that to him; after sleeping on it, I better understood what he said to me, and I apologized as well as validated his frustration in being misunderstood.
The point is I hear so many people say that what they fell in love with in a person is ultimately what drives them crazy. I try to keep my sensitivity in check, but it’s not always easy. I think what’s important is that we need to understand the flip side of the positive that we bring to a relationship. You know that dreaded question that you get in a job interview, “What are your strengths and weakness?” I tell people that they are one and the same, meaning your strength is also your potential weakness.
So, for me, my sensitivity is my strength and my weakness.
You might be attracted to someone who is confident, but the flip side may be arrogance. While you might be attracted to someone who is quiet and listens to you, the flip side might be he or she is painfully shy and won’t want to join you at parties. You might be drawn to someone who’s motivated, driven, and successful in a career, but the flip side may be that he or she may work all the time and forget to give time to the relationship. You might be attracted to someone who’s neat and organized; the flip might be that he or she can be compulsive and controlling. You might appreciate someone who’s nice and helpful to others, but the flip side may be that he or she doesn’t know how to say no. As I said, one trait typically has two sides. That doesn’t mean that the flip side will always appear—partners may have the flip side nicely contained!
What’s important here is self-awareness. I know my sensitivity all too well. I value it, though I sometimes wish that I didn’t feel emotions as intensely as I do. There are times when I react rather than process what just happened. I just feel it. I’ve become better at not reacting over the years by simply being self-aware. One of my mantras is “What you don’t own owns you,” meaning that if I own my sensitivity, I can do my best to contain it (self-awareness). If you don’t own it, it’s in control of you. I could easily fall into being reactionary and blame others for my emotions.
So whether you’re dating or married, examine and be self-aware of both sides of the coin regarding the traits in both your partner and yourself. Don’t be afraid of these characteristics or run from them. Simply be aware of them. And keep this in mind, too: When I was a kid, my sensitivity was seen as a negative aspect of me. I was often told that I was “too sensitive.” It took me a while to see the positive side of my sensitivity. If you struggle with only seeing the negative side of a trait, look for the positive. It’s there!
One final thought: If you’re only seeing the negative side of your partner’s traits, remember the positive, as well. That’s what you love!
Pam Fullerton has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for the past 19 years. Although she works with a variety of life issues that are presented to her in therapy, her passion is to understand the vast complexities of all relationships. She believes that healthy connections with others are what promote personal growth. Keep up with her writings on relationships, mindfulness, and more by subscribing here.