How We've Stayed Married, Part 3: Accepting Otherness
Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: "Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
This quote is usually attributed to Plato (or to Philo of Alexandria) but Quote Investigator notes the correct attribution is Ian MacLaren, the pen name of 19th century Scottish minister John Watson.
In one of his books, Rev. Watson discusses this quote: "This man [sic] beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched....And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle."
It's so important to remember this, and to treat ourselves kindly as well, especially when all of us are still experiencing such stress.
This tool is from the fourth Toolkit. Here's the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.
How We've Stayed Married, Part 3: Accepting Otherness
Even if you are a rather self-critical person like me, it is still easy--and so human--to assume that your way of doing things, your habits, your beliefs, your likes, are right or the best. I had no idea how much I felt this way until I began living day in and day out, year in and year out, with the same person--namely my husband. Prior to that, I would have told you that I was very flexible, accepting, open-minded and gracious. And, indeed, I am those things. But thanks to my marriage, I have discovered that I am also rigid, self-righteous, prejudiced and easily irritated. Sigh...
But this kind of self-discovery can be an opportunity to learn humility, which may be key to a lasting romance. I'm not talking about humiliation, or self-criticism or low self-esteem here, but the ability to look at yourself honestly, realize you aren't perfect, that you have some shortcomings--and that that is okay.
I have found that on a deep and daily basis, marriage offers me the opportunity to learn to allow and perhaps even celebrate what I call otherness.
This otherness is, I think, an odd--and cosmic--corollary to oneness. Yes, I agree that in some ultimate way we are all connected, all part of a whole, all branches of the same river. And yes, the water in a river system is continuous and connected as it flows along the entire drainage basin. But the different branches of a river can slide through extraordinarily different territory. Tributaries for the Mississippi flow through the high desert of Wyoming as well as the lush valleys of Kentucky--and everything in between. Picking up very different materials, supporting very different life forms. The same system, replete with otherness.
Carbon is oh-so-different from diamonds, though both have the same chemical signature. Water, ice, steam--chemically the same but all so wonderfully and totally other. The same and not the same. In fact, this same-but-different otherness is part of what allows our world and the universe to exist. As I said, it's a cosmic concept.
Otherness in a relationship can take many forms. There are, of course, the big differences like gender (or the choice to not identify with a gender), nationality, ethnicity, race, economic status, politics, and religion, or the lack thereof. I'm sure you can think of more. In a long term relationship we come smack up against otherness in so many ways.
Sometimes these differences can be part of the attraction, part of what we love about our partner. They can also become huge stumbling blocks. And huge opportunities.
Personality is another biggy. Lawrence and I are both introverts--we definitely understand the need we each have for space, and time by ourselves. But in another way our personalities are quite different. Lawrence is more organized, more "get it done," much more on time. And he likes closure. I am more free-flowing and spontaneous--and late. I also like to keep things open.
In the parlance of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, I am a perceiver and he is a judger. This has caused a fair amount of friction in our life together. And while, I admit, we each still tend to think our way is better, we are also both discovering how to honor and even grow from that otherness. He has learned to let go and flow a little more, I have come to appreciate planning ahead a little more.
Of course there are myriad smaller othernesses we deal with--he loves jazz, I definitely do not. I love the crunch of rice cakes, he says they taste like cardboard. He likes to go to bed early, I like to stay up late. We adjust, we squabble, we blame, we struggle. And laugh at ourselves and our foolishness a lot more than we used to early in our relationship.
"The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our image. If in loving them, we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them." Thomas Merton.
From allowing to accepting to appreciating--the journey with otherness in a marriage.
Or as a dear friend of mine once said to me, when I had been complaining about something Lawrence had done: "He is not you, and you'll have to forgive him for that."
Until next time,
Sad woman, Anh Nguyen, unSplash
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