When I was young, one of my favorite books was a collection of four short stories called “Nobody is Perfick“. I liked the first three stories, but it was the fourth one, called Nobody is Perfick, that captivated my attention. It was the story about a perfect boy named Peter Perfect. He always had sharp pencils. He always dressed perfectly. He received perfect scores on all of his tests. He had perfect manners and all of the adults in his life adored him. It’s only on the last page of the book, when a drawing of a boy with a wind-up mechanism in his back is revealed, that we realize that Peter Perfect isn’t real. The last line of the book (which I still remember perfectly to this day) is, “Nobody’s perfect, Peter Perfect.”
I remember feeling simultaneously disappointed and relieved by the moral of this tale. On the one hand, being an aspiring perfectionist, I desperately wanted to believe that perfection existed. I stepped into the book and imagined myself being Peter Perfect, receiving all of the accolades and approval that perfectionists seek. As a nearly perfect student in elementary school, I knew how delicious it felt to receive those temporary highs of approval. In fact, I lived for them. But on the other hand, I felt relieved to know that perfectionism was an impossible goal, one that nobody achieves, not even a robot. What a conflict this book produced in me! And how fascinating it is for me to sweep back over my small self through my adult eyes and explore the magnetic power that book had over me.
As I work with my clients struggling to find serenity in their intimate relationships, one of the most common themes that arises is the disappointment they experience when they realize that they’re with an imperfect partner, one that, while wonderful in many essential ways, falls short of the parnter-fantasy they developed over the years. Oftentimes this fantasy isn’t even conscious, and only rises to consciousness once their actual partner is compared to the latent fantasy partner. And even if the fantasy isn’t fully formed, most people are surprised and disappointed to realize that their partner is irritating at times, doesn’t have a similar sense of humor, and doesn’t look quite how they thought their partner was going to look. Of course, you are imperfect as well. The hard thud to reality is in realizing that all human beings are incredibly imperfect.
The problem is that we’re not offered an accurate depiction of relationships in the West. True to the dichotomous, black-and-white thinking that defines mainstream culture, we’re presented with two extremes: on the one hand, we see the perfect, Hollywood relationship that stems from the fairy tale and Disney expectation of a perfect prince or princess coming to lift you out of the messy, uncomfortable, sometimes painful, sometimes boring reality of being human. On the other hand, we witness, sometimes firsthand in the first blueprint of our parents’ marriage, relationships that are either fraught with volatile conflict or defined by a chasm of resentment that looks like bored silence. Neither model is one that most people want to emulate.
What we don’t see is two people who love each other, come up against the foibles of being human, and work through them to the place of acceptance and true love. We don’t see a couple, for example, driving in a new city and becoming anxious about losing their way. Driving, in fact, is a situation that tends to elicit a variety of charged emotions for many couples, as it cuts to the core of our sense of safety and, thus, control. But when and where do we ever see a couple working through these agitated moments in a conscious and loving way – both inside their own mind and with each other? Even simply knowing that it’s normal to feel judgement, annoyance, or frustration while driving can be incredibly relieving to the mind that wants to assign first layer meaning to such feelings (i.e. because I feel annoyed and judgmental, that means my judgements are true and, furthermore, it means that I’m with the wrong person).
A significant part of learning to love well is practicing acceptance, which means accepting that we are all imperfect. When we let go of the expectation that our partners and love itself should be perfect, everything starts to soften and change. This is a topic that comes up every time I run my Open Your Heart program as it underlies almost all of the Love Laws and Loving Actions that I teach there, and there’s something so powerful about discussing this topic and going through the work with a group of other dedicated, passionate learners. Together we see that we’re all in a similar struggle. Together we learn to soften our judgement (fear) as we learn to accept the truths about love and fear, and accept ourselves and our partners for who we/they are. The more I run my 30-day programs, the more I see that, while the information is critical for correcting the cognitive distortions, it’s the shared experience of going through the program together, under skilled guidance, that tips the balance from insight and action into true change. Small miracles happen when we dive into the deep end holding hands. We realize, then, that we can swim.
With information and support comes acceptance, and with acceptance comes compassion. And with compassion, comes love. With a collective inhale, we absorb the accurate information that will help us open our hearts. With a collective exhale, we soften into the field of acceptance that keeps our hearts open. We do this together to heal the shame that says there’s something wrong with us for not knowing how to do this already. Then we take the work and bring it into our daily lives.
I’ll close with a beautiful email from a recent Open Your Heart participant in response to my Cycle of Healing post. With her permission, I’m sharing it here:
I see all the “that is so me!” comments on the blog in response to your latest post and felt compelled to share my personal version of “thank you so much, that is so where I just was” story to the mix on this one.
For the first half of this year, things were such delightfully smooth sailing on the relationship anxiety front, or lack thereof.
Sometimes I would pause and look around my mind and just notice, nope, no anxious “clouds” of any sort around. Just clarity, connection, ease and appreciation. When the topic of marriage came up (we’re almost 3 years into our relationship), it felt easy breezy and like, yep, of course that’s happening, and I’m super excited about that.
Then we got some news that we needed to move, and what seemed like a million and one shufflings seemed to need to transpire. And then came the anniversary of the death of a boyfriend from years past, my first “adult” love, and that heart-opening loss’s still-rippling reverberations.
And to no great surprise, the relationship anxiety – aka projection fest 2016 – rolled back into town.
This particular anxiety storm came to a head when, after being apart for a few days, my boyfriend joined me for dinner one night.
And sitting across our tacos from one another, the catch-up chit-chat was drowned out by my inner monologue: “Oh my God — I felt so much more peaceful on my own this week. What the hell am I doing in a relationship where that’s the case? Maybe it really is finally time to cut my losses and either go back to being on my own or find a relationship I can be more relaxed in. This can’t be right.”
For the rest of that night my mind threw every logical-sounding, fear-based thought in the book about why I should prep myself to get out the door, including the final cherry on top of not only rolling over in bed in the morning and looking at my partner and feeling nothing, but even hearing, “I hate you” roll through my mind.
But the thing is, even as all these clouds rolled through my mind, my gut stayed centered where it always has in this relationship. I just kept hearing and feeling, deep in my core, this calm, clear, solid message quietly — *just* clearly enough — sending the message, “Stay.”
This clear knowing that I was still in the right place. That this was just fear talking. That it was actually safe to just stay.
Then thanks to the always-powerful questions you offer up to explore when anxiety strikes: “What needs attention within me right now?” I was able to get quiet, turn inward, and cut through the (B.S.) distraction tactics of the anxious voices.
I felt into this sadness — the grief — of yes, this IS still hard for me sometimes to be with someone in partnership every day after so many years of being on my own.
And yes, it’s OK for me to ask for and create the kind of alone time and quiet space that replenish me.
And I settled back into the knowing that, while those things are true, I am incredibly blessed to be in a truly supportive, loving, growth-rich partnership… just the kind I’d always dreamed of being in. And I felt once again the truth that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I cried a few tears – hilariously, truly just a few, no dramatic fireworks – and wouldn’t you know it, I was back to “myself” in no time. Clear about how right this relationship feels to me; content; at ease. And from there, more and more open and relaxed and happy again.
The truth of “I love you” again replaced the fear of losing him that was pulling out all the stops trying to convince me of the ridiculously untrue “I hate you.”
The mind is a powerful thing, but objective, spacious awareness is more powerful.
Thank you for so many incredible tools and reminders that we don’t have to believe everything we think and don’t have to react to everything we feel.
Whether you’ve taken Open Your Heart once, twice, or never, whether you’re struggling with relationship anxiety or are in a solid place inside yourself yet know that there are walls and barriers that are preventing you from loving more fully, whether you’ve been together for three weeks or thirty years, I invite you to join me for this ninth round to experience the neuronal firing of magic that occurs when we decide to enter the next layer of healing together and allows us to feel more love and attraction for our partners. Take my hand and let’s begin. The next round begins this Saturday, August 27th, 2016, and you can learn more and sign up here.