1. You will see your partner in unflattering lights, and there's something wonderful about that.
We attended a friend's wedding last month and during the dollar dance the groom asked me, "So how do you like marriage?"
I said something along the lines of, "It's insane. It's a roller-coaster, and the man is crazy."
He asked, "It is good, right?"
I said, "Absolutely."
I don't know how it happened, but compared to a year ago, I see Owen as being more complicated than I had realized and I also love him more. Maybe I love him more because I've also learned more about how he is wonderful, but I think learning more about his perceived flaws may actually play the bigger role. As I learn more about his traits that annoy me I come more into what makes him vulnerable and in that I empathize more. Often I find that what I initially perceive as flaws are actually weaknesses, and in knowing accepting each other's weaknesses we can better enjoy our own humanness.
It's like that Seinfeld episode when Elaine says that she can't date a guy because he is too good, which makes her seem more bad. There's just something uncomfortable about being around people who seem perfect because we know our own flaws keep us from being as "good." By sharing his weaknesses with me, Owen allows me to be more myself, warts and all. For more on this idea, see my earlier post, You Don't Complete Me.
Owen can be, at times, pouty. I have always had a short tolerance for pouty, so at some point this past year we addressed it. Actually, I think this took many months of conversation to figure out. What we've realized is that Owen needs verbal affection to feel secure and loved. What I perceived as a flaw, pouting, is less of a flaw and more of an unmet need. I've learned that in describing Owen it never proves accurate to say "he is flawed in such and such a way," only that "in this aspect of our perceptions, we differ, and I react with frustration."
2. Your own shortcomings will be thrown in your face, and you will have to accept them.
During St. Olaf graduation this year I had the opportunity to introduce Owen to one of my favorite professors who said, "Isn't being married great? Single, you can go around thinking that you've got it all together, but once your married... you can't hide anything. All your flaws come out."
One of the hardest aspects of marriage is the disillusionment of the self. An interesting phenomenon in relationships is when people defend ridiculous actions that they would never defend in a different context. When you are intimately close with another person, you cannot hide your flaws, and if you continue to act as though they don't exists, you are in danger of looking like an ass.
If your partner continuously accuses you of being such and such, perhaps you should take a step back and see if there's actually some truth in it. When Owen first suggested that I didn't care for him as much as he needed, I was shocked. I cared so much, and he was so wrong in that, but he was on to something. What he had noticed was my addiction to busyness. I am all too capable of allowing a million other things take my attention from Owen.
3. It's okay to question your decision.
Owen supervisor at work sways on his toes and clasps his hands behind his back, always half joking and almost too honest. He told us that choosing a PhD program is like getting married. Sometimes you find yourself thinking, "This is what I married?"
When I was in high school I was terrified to question my religious beliefs because the church trained me not to. The church taught me that questioning my beliefs and looking outside for answers would mislead me and I would go to hell. College presented me with the frightening idea that the church was wrong. After a painful first year, I realized that avoiding information and avoiding ideas had me trapped. When I finally allowed myself to question my beliefs, I confirmed some and tossed others and I would say that I am a much freer person with a much stronger faith. I no longer have nagging questions because I allow myself to address them and think them through.
The same should be true in relationships. If you have a nagging question in the back of your mind regarding your partner, don't be afraid to ask it. Don't be afraid to ask, "Do I really love this person?" If you confirm that you do, then you will enjoy freedom in having asked. If you find that you don't you can start attending to the problem.