Blog- By Kate Lyons Module 5: How Well Do You Know Yourself & Your Partner?
There’s this line I keep hearing in love stories and musings about the perfect partner – “they know me better than I know myself.” I’ve spent a good few years being salty about that sentiment, but looking back on my experience with Module 5, I think there’s actually an important piece there.
I’ve always held tightly to the idea that no one can know us as well as we know ourselves. But I’ve also found that sometimes that feels really lonely, like no one will ever actually understand me as well as I’d like them to. I used to agonize over my perceived loneliness in knowing myself.
I think that’s what the “my partner knows me better than I know myself” sentiment comes from. We don’t want to be lonely. Or, perhaps more accurately, we don’t want to be alone in knowing ourselves. I think a lot of us want our partner to be someone who knows us and understands us so we don’t have to deal with the burden of ourselves all on our own.
But like we talked about in my last post, we won’t really find a partner who can perfectly understand and know us all the time. The trick is finding one who wants to constantly keep learning about their partner and about themselves.
Let’s talk about that last bit.
As much as I want a partner who has that caring curiosity about me, I’ve come to realize that it’s just as important for my partner to feel that way about themselves.
Why? Well in my experience, caring self-curiosity opens us up to hearing criticism and then acting on it. I've found that if I'm only curious about my partner but don't want to know more about myself, I'm far more likely to take an observation they offer about me as a threat. Focusing solely on my partner can become a safety net where I try to learn more about them to avoid learning more about myself. I think I was afraid of what I'd find when I looked in the mirror.
But avoiding myself just sent me down the same paths, the same mistakes, and did nothing to help me break my unhealthy patterns. I tried to resign myself to just being unhappy, tried to be grateful for what I had. It didn't work.
You know what did work? Taking a good hard look at myself, in all of my flaws and eccentricities and triumphs. It was painful, until it occurred to me that maybe I deserved the kindness I was trying so hard to give to my partner. Maybe that same curiosity about him was something I needed to turn to myself.
I tried. It came in tears and triumphs, like any new habit as we try to establish it. But as I got more comfortable with peering deep into my heart and mind, I started opening up to my partner's feedback too.
When I didn't want to look too hard at myself, taking my partner's feedback into account was like trying to scuba dive without any gear. I could only look at my actions for a minute or two before turning away to swim for the surface. But when I started to turn my fear of my mistakes into curiosity, I began to listen to my partner's concerns instead of rationalizing away my mistakes.
In other words, my partner called me on my nonsense and instead of jumping down his throat, I listened.
For example, in Mod 5, one of the statements you’re asked to evaluate is if you “Feel it is important to always be right.” That’s one of many statements you’ll grade as a yes, that’s me or no, not me.
Your partner will do the same on their end for themselves, and then you’ll exchange responses. You’ll look at each other’s answers and talk, especially about any you perceive differently.
When I did Mod 5, I marked “No” on “Feel it is important to always be right.” And my partner took one look at that, remembered some spats we’d had, and said he wasn’t sure about that.
It stung a little. But I was learning that he could teach me things about myself I couldn't - or didn't want - to see on my own. Turning caring curiosity toward myself helped me feel safe enough to listen to his perspective, however little I thought I wanted to hear it.
He talked about our fights over religion, and how some unwise things I’d said made him feel. He talked about how my visceral reaction to a particular aspect of faith had felt like I didn’t care to acknowledge how faith had been helpful or meaningful to him.
It hurt to hear, but he was absolutely right.
I was so caught up in my anger that I hadn’t been willing to listen when he shared why it meant something important to him, why he still held to some of the tenants even though he acknowledged things he and I both disagreed with. And I had never realized how deeply my anger hurt him because I was too busy rationalizing it away, too busy caught up in my own pain to see anything beyond my own experience.
That wasn’t our easiest talk. But it was one of the most valuable ones to me.
Religion had become a hotspot we hardly dared to broach. When we started the course, I think we were both resigned to making faith and religion one of those things we swept under the rug. But this conversation helped us get back on track.
I learned that I needed to let go of my anger and realize that while I had been hurt by a particular belief system, it was also equally as true that the same beliefs helped some people – people close to me, people I loved. For them, that religion had brought a sense of hope and community. Their experiences didn’t invalidate mine; they were just different.
I don’t think I would have learned that as well without my partner’s feedback. He took the initiative to bring up his concern in a loving way and trusted me to listen, even though we’d fought over the issue in the past.
And in talking it through together, I learned more about why I had reacted so poorly in the past. I realized I was afraid to be wrong about things – especially about things that had hurt me – because I thought that being wrong would invalidate all feelings I’d had. I thought that acknowledging that something that had hurt me had also helped others would mean I was in the wrong and that my pain was meaningless.
Our conversation helped me see otherwise. I didn’t need to always be right, because my feelings were valid and didn’t fit into a binary right-wrong. My painful experience was valid – but so was my partner’s hopeful one. I discovered that we agreed on a lot of things, but our responses were very different. And I started to realize that was okay.
So as you talk through Module 5 together, remember to be open to your partner. They may disagree with some of your assessments of yourself, and that can be an invaluable exercise for both of you. Practice loving kindness and put those compassionate communication skills to work. You'll learn more about your partner, but you'll also learn about yourself. You just might like what you find.