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Are you currently in a long-term relationship?
And is there any way you could improve your relationships, with anyone…specially your significant other?
Think back to the first time you fell in love with that person. Remember how you couldn’t wait to be with them. There was a sense of mystery, excitement, curiosity, and anticipation.
This person, a total stranger, had captured your attention in a powerful way.
Think about your relationship now.
If you’re like most people, you probably still love the person you’re with very much.
However, the excitement and curiosity of the past have been replaced by routine and boredom.
Instead of melting at the sound of their voice, you roll your eyes in annoyance.
Instead of looking forward to reuniting with them, you daydream of getting away for a weekend all by yourself—every single weekend.
You wonder to yourself, “How did it come to this?” What happened to the burning love I once had for this person? You may be familiar with the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt.”
It may be cliche, but you may find that it rings true in your situation.
It should be said that this principle is at work, not just in romantic relationships.
If you’re a parent, think back to how precious that bundle of joy was when they were born. When that bundle of joy becomes a teenager, almost everything they do becomes a source of conflict.
Or think about close friendships that have faded over time.
Familiarity is the death of relationships
You may think that the fastest way to kill a relationship is by having big arguments. And this definitely won’t help you to improve your relationships.
But beneath the arguments, the eye rolls, and the anger is the sense of familiarity you feel with this person. This may sound counterintuitive, but the biggest threat to your relationship is this:
You think that you know all there is to know about the person you love.
Wasn’t that the point of the whole courtship? Aren’t I supposed to get to know the person I love?
Sure. But we confuse getting to know a person with knowing everything about that person.
We don’t understand that no matter how much we think we know someone, in some ways they remain as mysterious to us as on the day we met them.
The truth is that no one can be fully known, not even to themselves.
And it’s hard to improve your relationships when familiarity starts to breed contempt.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re still getting to know yourself as hidden aspects of you unfold over the course of your life.
If you’ve been married for 30 years, your spouse may actually be more mysterious to you now than they were when you first got married.
What happens to most of us is that we sense the deepening mystery of our loved one unfolding and it scares us.
So what do we do? We try to fashion them into a static image, the ideal version of themselves that’s easiest to love. The attempt to reconcile the person in your head with the person in front of you inevitably creates conflict.
A wonderful and unusual way to improve your relationships
Honoring the stranger.
This may sound strange, but if your relationship is on the verge of dying, you need to start treating this person like a stranger again.
Actually, you may already be aware of this truth because in the middle of a heated exchange, you may say things like, “I don’t know who you are anymore” or “I don’t like who you’ve become.”
Your distress comes from the expectation that the person you love is static, unchanging, and capable of being fully known.
As reality forces these expectations to dissolve, there can be a sense of loss and anger directed at the person you love.
But what if you could embrace this force for good? How might your relationship be better if you honored the stranger in the person you thought you knew?
1. You’d listen better
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “we complete each other’s sentences.” It sounds so romantic in the beginning, but over time it leads us to assume we know what someone is trying to say before they even open their mouths.
The potential for misunderstanding and hurt feelings goes way up.
What if instead you could listen to a loved one like you would to someone you met for the first time?
You’d listen intently to make sure you understood them because you truly don’t have a sense of who they are or how they communicate.
And you’d learn things about them you thought you knew but really didn’t. You’d clear up misunderstandings quicker and grow in your appreciation for them on a deeper level.
2. You’d turn your statements into questions
When you approach your loved one with a sense of mystery, you’d be less likely to make pronouncements upon them that purport to declare their motives or what how they are thinking or feeling.
Instead of saying things like “You always…” or “You never…”, you’ll ask questions like “How did that make you feel?” or “What did that experience mean to you?”
A well intentioned, open question will lead to places in your relationship you never thought possible.
3. You’d be more empathetic
Without empathy, it’s virtually impossible to have relationships. Yet, so many of us struggle to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. You may think that it’s easier to be empathetic with someone you know, but it’s actually harder.
It’s harder to be empathetic with someone who’s story you’re “familiar” with because all their quirks and potentially triggering behavior creates a barrier that prevents you from putting yourself in their shoes.
What if you suspend your own beliefs about their motives and just try to enter into their world? How might your relationship change for the better?
Making the familiar unfamiliar
I know it feels counterintuitive but in order to improve your relationships you need to make the familiar unfamiliar by getting to know the person you thought you knew all over again.
In every moment, treat them like someone you’re just getting to know. Doing this will make you feel like you’ve taken years off your relationship. Your sense of curiosity and wonder will return.
And your relationship will become stronger and more fulfilling.