“Describe your perfect partner,” someone asks you.
“Okay,” you say. “Tall, good-looking, riveting eyes, sex appeal, intelligent, sensitive, honest, good communicator, creative, spiritual, great in bed, fun-loving, financially independent, aligned with whole health and whole food, romantic…”
The list of glowing adjectives just spills out, doesn’t it? It’s not at all difficult to be a Pygmalion, dreaming up an ideal partner, but let’s just fast forward the film past those first few exhilarating years to when the rose-coloured path begins to look boggy... or even bloody...
All relationships go through phases or moods or ‘ups and downs’ or whatever else you like to call it – that’s a pretty widely accepted understanding now. But while some couples are able to ride the bucking bronco without falling off, others aren’t, or are in grave danger of being trampled. And when you’re hanging on by the skin of your teeth, feeling and looking desperate, advice comes from all sides:
“Leave him – he’s a bastard.”
“You’re only staying in it because your self-esteem is so low.”
“You’re being used – get out!”
It sounds right, it makes sense, you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, you feel a weight lifting off – free at last! You can even just begin to make out the vague form of your next perfect partner... still hazy, but most certainly there, and most certainly more perfect than this one.
Here’s a little sobering question that I asked myself when I was about ready to let go the reins and put in my application for another steed:
Perfect for what?
When we talk about ‘perfect partners’, what do we mean? Are we really wanting someone who is, quote, ‘faultless; complete; absolutely correct; absolute, utter’? Can you imagine how much worse your arguments could become? “But darling, I’m faultless, remember? Absolutely correct!”
Not on your life!
We put so much time and energy into dreaming up someone who has all the qualities we wish we had. Someone who has mastered everything we’re trying to master (money, open communication...). Someone who will be so perfect that s/he will be endlessly patient with our imperfections...
So here’s that question again: ‘PERFECT FOR WHAT?’ What, ultimately, is your relationship for? What purpose does it serve?
Let me share with you a dream that I had during a very dark period in my primary relationship, when the quantity and quality of our communication could pretty fairly have been compared with the Cold War... The dream was comprised of two images, two very powerful simple images. The first was one of those toilet dreams, you know the sort? I was about to use a toilet in full view of a whole heap of people. In the dream I grab someone and get them to stand in front of me while I go. Analysis of image #1: I don’t want anyone to see my shit. In the second image, I am admiring a beautiful big tree and leaning right out into it. Something makes me look down, and, just under my nose, I see a beautiful nest. Analysis of image #2: There’s a home right under your nose.
The impact that those two simple, clear images and their quiet, to-the-point messages made on me was not insignificant. I was reverberating with the implications of the dream for the rest of the day, and the next, and the next... Because at the time the dream came, I had been fully embroiled in blame and if only he’d change, everything would be better; and I was beginning to indulge in fantasies about cutting loose and finding my next more perfect partner and creating a more perfect nest. So what does my subconscious tell me? Look at your own shit. There’s a home right under your nose.
It made me sit up.
I’ve always gone along with the teaching that the world is your mirror, and your partner is your mirror, and when you change, they’ll change, but there was a huge chasm between my walk and my talk. When it came down to it, I couldn’t bear looking at my own imperfections. It was much easier and more emotionally palatable to shine the light on his imperfections, and deliver a few swift kicks into the bargain.
So I began to contemplate the question: What is the purpose of this relationship? My subconscious wasn’t slow in delivering answers. ‘To grow, to develop, to expand, to learn, to become more whole.’ That’s easy enough to say - I’ve said it before; so have you, probably. But when you investigate what it means, what it means in practice... now that’s another story.
The perfect partner, I realised, wincing, is perfect for my growth, to push my buttons, to reveal my weaknesses for me so that I can heal and integrate and become strong in those areas. My perfect partner, I realised, shading my eyes from the glare of Truth, is tailored to sniff out every little dark and unloved place in me until I can bring it home.
At around this time, in the usual synchronous way of the Universe, I went for a walk along the beach with a good and perceptive friend who asked me a few pointed questions. “So he’s not intimate enough? How are you on the intimacy score?” (Only that day I had put my sister off from having a heart -to-heart because I was afraid of what she was going to say about me.)
“Intimacy is not about how close you can get to someone else, but how close you let them come to you,” he reminded me. “Do you show him your feelings? tell him what fears you have?” (Only in my mind, I reflected. I had plenty of honest communications with him in the privacy of my inner world; not so many that made it into his audible range.)
“If you don’t resolve it with him, you can count on meeting the same pattern in your next relationship,” he told me. I knew that – in theory. (But it might be easier next time, my mind pleaded. You’ll have the freshness of new love again for a while to bolster you up for a while.)
I am grateful to this friend, and two or three other very special women who reinforced the same message: take responsibility. He is your perfect partner because he is perfect for your growth right now.
And I am grateful to myself for not letting myself off the hook, for attracting me to a high thought: ‘he’s my mirror; for him to change, first I must change’ – and making me live up to it.
But my very first step was to honestly ask and to honestly answer that question: ‘What is the ideal partner perfect for? – For my growth.’ Not to carry me through life by protecting me from my immaturity.
As soon as I began energetically to draw my claws out of him, to stop focusing on his flaws and instead, begin to remind myself several times a day, ‘he’s perfect for you, stop finding fault with him and look at yourself,’ Life took both me and us in its gentle hands and began to unravel the tightly bound and painful knot that was our relationship. I finally acknowledged the depth of my grief about how far off the rails our relationship had come, surrendering to long and desperate fits of crying. He softened his granite mask to come forward and hold me in compassion, although feeling as helpless as me regarding our presumably irretrievable relationship. Yet in the days that followed, his depression and inertia slowly lifted, and he began to go swimming again, and bought himself a new tie. All little signs, but not insignificant.
It seems, in retrospect, that these were the only things I did: to decide to apply the theory that my partner is my mirror, and to take my attention off his apparent imperfections and acknowledge my feelings – first, my suppressed sadness. Since then a whole gamut of events has occurred, blending together invisibly but powerfully. We began to make love again, reaching a greater depth of intimacy than ever before, and the magic that generated in our relationship has continued to heal and make strong the new bond that is growing.
Today I would be hard pressed to find anything ‘wrong’ about him, yet ‘nothing has changed’. We still face essentially the same problems financially and in terms of our different interests and perceptions, but somehow the sting has come out of these and I find myself warm and smiling, no longer cold and angry.
In a recent counseling session with one of the special women I mentioned earlier, I tackled the question of my frustration that my partner’s qualities and interests were not the same as mine. It was easy enough to recognize the purpose and value of polarity, of yin and yang, but that didn’t do away with the pain of not being able to share activities I love to do.
Up came the mirror, and the question: So what is it that prevents me from being and doing what I love to be and do? Because in practice I wasn’t doing half the things I wanted him to do with me, and I wasn’t demonstrating all the qualities that I wanted him to demonstrate. It became increasingly obvious that it was up to me to step into the person I wanted to be, rather than to expect him to do it. After all, he might be aspiring to a whole other set of qualities. And the realisation that I could celebrate my openess or liveliness or pluckiness, rather than bemoaning his lack of them, was like a refreshing breeze on a very hot day.
There be magic in appreciating yourself, and awareness itself is healing.
The insight alone was enough to get the wheels turning: in the week weeks that followed I found myself effortlessly doing many of the things I had procrastinated, and comfortably not doing other things I’d berated myself for not doing. In other words, stepping into myself, making myself whole, growing, learning, integrating.
I’ve found my perfect partner - he was there all along. Have you?
This article is © Liliane Grace 1994 and was first published in Whole Person, Sept/Oct 1995.
© Liliane Grace 2009