BY PEGGY HAMMES
Relationships teach me who I am. As I continue to stay in relationship, I continue to grow those parts of me that are not finished growing yet. And growth is what I got handed to me the other day on a silver platter.
My partner frustrates me with what I call “not listening.” He listens to me. He hears what I say. Then he does what he wants to do anyway. Repeatedly I feel upset, frustrated, and reactive. This interaction goes on between us over and over again.
So…what am I not getting here? If relationships are our mirror and teach us who we are, then what I was frustrated about was about me—not hearing myself. Perhaps I needed to repeat myself over and over again for me to get it—that I am important enough to stand up for—against all argument, against all resistance. When I am feeling important enough to be heard, I will fight until it happens.
It is much easier to focus on what is wrong with our partner or with the relationship. What is usually harder to see is how we ourselves help to create whatever problem exists—by how we perceive it and react to it. In fact, every difficulty in a relationship is co-created. In addition, it is much harder to change our partner or “fix” the relationship than it is to work on ourselves. Surprisingly, when we work on ourselves, and how we contribute to the difficulty, the relationship usually starts improving as well.
Take myself, for example. I had been complaining for months about my partner’s above transgression with no results. When I looked at the “ mirror”—what my relationship was trying to teach me—a light bulb went on, I changed my perception, and the communication between us improved.
This does not mean that we blame only ourselves—that would be going to the other extreme. Rather, the purpose of regarding relationships as a mirror is to reverse our oppositional mind-set of focusing exclusively on what our partner is doing wrong, while ignoring how we are both co-creating the situation. Observing my co-creation helped me to view the problem from another perspective and gave me the insight to effect change.
The basic principle is simple. Two partners are like a pair of multifaceted mirrors, and their interaction picks up and reflects sides of each other that they might not otherwise see clearly. Moreover, the way we relate to others reflects the way we relate to unloved or unaccepted parts of ourselves. The dramas we enact in relationships are the dramas we carry inside of us. The qualities we seek in a partner are the qualities we also need to see within ourselves. What we reject in others points to parts of ourselves that we also often reject.
Regarding relationship as a mirror can help expand our awareness of what is happening in our interactions. We can look at any irritation that we feel toward our partner with new insight by asking, “What is this mirroring in me? What is this forcing me to look at in myself?” We can then begin to see where we need to grow, instead of staying focused in frustration on what the other person won’t change. In this way, we can use what we come up against as part of our path to growth and self-discovery.