“Physical attraction is not a firm foundation on which to build a relationship, for the simple reason that it is never constant. It sets in motion a cycle of expectation and disillusionment that can go on and on. The person who lives in a world of fantasy will often blame the other for letting him down. Perhaps, for example, Juliet expects Romeo to come to her balcony every morning and launch into, “It is the east, and you are the sun . . . .” Three days after the honeymoon, she feels crushed when she is greeted at breakfast with nothing more romantic than, “Where’s the toast?” Many relationships sputter because of just such inflated expectations, which demand of life something that it simply cannot give. We should not feel that close relationships are beyond our reach, but they are demanding. Through experience, we come to realize that in love nothing comes as easily as we expected. Everything beautiful has to be worked for.”
– Eknath Easwaran’s Thought for the Day
The first installment of “When You’re Not Attracted to Your Partner” is one of my most popular posts. It seems that alongside the taboos of engagement anxiety and newlywed depression, there’s a red-hot cultural taboo about mentioning that you’re not always attracted to your partner or not attracted in the “right” way. What is the right way? According to the mainstream message, it’s heart-fluttering, consistent attraction. It’s always looking over at your partner and thinking he or she is the hottest thing to ever walk the earth. It’s the cultural message that says, “If you don’t always want to rip your partner’s clothes off the second he or she walks in the door, something is terribly wrong and you should leave.”
With courageous honesty, some of my clients admit that sometimes they look at their partner and think he’s ugly. Ugly is such a strong word, but when I hear those statements my first thought is, “I wonder how she’s feeling about herself in that moment. Is she feeling ugly ? Is she feeling bored or depressed or tired or hormonal?” As I’ve discussed extensively in various posts, much of how we relate to and regard our partners is affected by a psychological phenomenon called projection. Put simply, this means that when we’re not feeling open and loving inside and connected to our essence, we view our partner through this distorted lens. Conversely, when we’re connected to our being – which is naturally alive, pure, and beautiful – the veil of distortion is lifted and we see our partner through clear eyes.
What confirms that someone is in a projection is that in the next minute or hour she can look over at her partner and think he looks handsome. How can this be? Has the partner changed so much in a minute or an hour? Impossible. It can only be that her shifting internal landscape determines her perception. (This obviously applies to men with their female partners as well as same-sex partnerships.) When she’s feeling good inside, her partner looks “good”. When she’s feeling scared or off-kilter in some way, her partner looks strange, distorted or “ugly”.
During the free-ride stage of infatuation in the beginning a relationship, our open hearts naturally cause us to see our partners in their highest self. We’re connecting essence to essence, Being to Being. Eckhart Tolle says it beautifully:
“Genuine relationships become possible only when there is an awareness of Being. Coming from Being, you will perceive another person’s body and mind as just a screen, behind which you can feel their true reality, as you feel yours.”
But once the free-ride ends, as it always will as soon as fear enters the picture, we have to begin the hard work of excavating the false beliefs and unrealistic expectations so that we can once again connect first to our own being and then to our partner’s. This is not a one time process; the ocean of fear runs deep and wide in the modern psyche and it requires a daily commitment to a process like journaling and/or mindfulness to prevent fear from sliding into the driver’s seat and operating your relationship car. But the more you shatter the fantasies about love and romance, replace the false beliefs with the truth, and learn to connect to and love your truest self, the more you will naturally regard your partner how you saw him in the beginning: as the beautiful, good, and honest man that he is.