Once we can accept that people are different we can begin to seriously explore how we are different. From one perspective, judgments and prejudice are associated with differences. But at a deeper level we can clearly see that the original cause of these judgments is non-acceptance and non-appreciation of our differences. Through accepting that people are different, we are freed from the compulsion to change them; when we are not preoccupied with changing others, we are free to appreciate their unique values. Ultimately, the recognition of differences among people allows us to release our judgments. Once we can accept our partner’s differences, rather than judge, we can open our hearts and be drawn to loving a person in spite of their differences. Unconditional love is not possible without the recognition and acceptance of our differences. John Gray, Ph.D., in his book Men, Women and Relationships, provides several insightful tips to help us understand the differences between men and woman.
Generally speaking, a woman’s awareness is to move out from herself and connect with others. When she falls in love, it is easy for her to forget herself completely. Men, on the other hand, tend to contract in relationships; he will begin to pull back into himself. One of the most common problems women have in relationships is that they forget their own needs and become absorbed in the needs of their partner. A woman’s greatest challenge in a relationship is to maintain her sense of self. In a converse way, a man’s biggest difficulty is to overcome his tendency to be self-absorbed and self-centered.
When women communicate, especially when they are under stress, they will begin to share in a burst of communication; women find greater clarity by expanding and sharing; she is not always aware of where it will take her, but she trusts it will take her where she needs to go. For women, sharing is a potent process of self-discovery. Men under stress, on the other hand, generally need to pull away to mull over their feelings and ideas. Women expand whereas men contract.
Through loving and accepting a woman’s feminine qualities, a man becomes more accepting of his own feminine side. His coolness is balanced by her warmth, his aggression is balanced by her receptivity, his assertiveness is balanced by her vulnerability, his power is balanced by her love; by this process he is becoming whole. And as she loves him, her masculine qualities begin to be felt and she becomes more whole as well. This paradox is integral to any loving relationship; without some differences there can be no relating; without some similarities there can be no joining. When partners do not respect and appreciate their complementary differences, they lose their electricity and attraction for each other. To whatever extent a partner must suppress his or her way of being, feeling, thinking, and doing to receive love or be safe in a relationship, the love will fade. Every time you suppress or deny yourself in order to be loved, you are not loving yourself. And every time you try to alter, fix, or improve your partner, you are sending a message he does not deserve to be loved for who he is. When, in the name of love, you seek to repress yourself or change your partner, one only makes matters worse.
Dr. John Gray points out four keys to creating mutually supportive and rewarding relationships:
1) Purposeful communication. Intimacy thrives on communication of the truth; but without an understanding of the underlying purpose of the communication, even the best communication skills will inevitably fail. When we feel upset or threatened, communication often becomes twisted and manipulative; when we communicate to intimidate, threaten, disapprove, hurt, fault-find, or make someone feel guilty, we are misusing information. We may succeed in controlling, but inevitably we will create resentment. True and effective communication has the intent to share our understanding and more thoroughly share another’s understanding.
2) Intent to understand. We think we know what they mean, yet we frequently misunderstand their intended meaning; we jump to the wrong conclusions. Most of the emotional tensions in relationships arise from misunderstanding. Learning some basic communication skills will help, but what really makes communication work is the intent to understand.
3) Giving up negative judgments. Our negative appraisals of ourselves and the results of our actions inhibit us from fully expressing our talents. Ultimately, deprecatory judgments keep us from fully enjoying all we have and our lives in general. Judgment will continue until we understand, appreciate, and honor the differences between people. When we are able to love, accept, appreciate, and respect others, quite automatically we begin to accept and appreciate ourselves, and through loving ourselves we can love others.
4) Accepting responsibility and practicing forgiveness. Love will never be pure unless you are free from resentment. Accumulated resentment undermines the growth of love in a relationship. The first step in releasing resentment is to claim your responsibility by recognizing how negative judgments, hidden or expressed, actually provoke much of the verbal abuse and lack of support we get. Knowledge is powerful; when we have a greater understanding of how we are different, we will be more accepting, understanding, respectful, and appreciative. With a greater understanding of your partner and with better communication, release of resentment and forgiveness will become easier. With greater understanding of our differences, we can release the judgments that compel us to change our partners rather than appreciate and support them.
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