Have you ever noticed that, in a happy relationship, the partners mirror one another in ways that feel good? That are mutually validating? That give a quick and hearty sense of understanding and support?
I like the metaphor of a relationship being like two mirrors. Each reflects back at the other an image that is consistent with the partner's positive self-image. It's pleasing to know that your partner sees you the way you like to see yourself. He or she appreciates who you are, and values you for the traits that you see as special and defining of yourself. It doesn't take a lot of explaining or enhancing (as it might in the world outside of your love life). At home you don't have to Photo Shop the image!
When a relationship starts to turn negative these images can get fuzzy and non-distinct. The sense of understanding and appreciation gets blurred. When relationships continue to spiral negatively, we each try to fix the image. However, these efforts to "fix it" often can be defensive, and can bring out qualities in each partner that run quite contrary to our positive self-image. Over time and accumulated resentments, the fuzzy images can become more distinct and unlike who we "know" ourselves really to be. They can become like circus mirrors, where we are frightened to think, "She thinks that's me?" "He sees me that way?"
[Photo by C. Hindy: This photo is of a plant in my office, coincidentally a "Crown of Thorns." A pretty flower for such a name.]
It makes me think of various ways we could build on this "mirror" metaphor. For example, while flattering images of one another might feel good, they simply cannot always be so pristine! We have to be able to give helpful feedback to one another in order to grow (and not grow apart). However, irregularities in the evolving images need to be in proper perspective, and be incorporated in ways that we both can appreciate and experience as caring rather than hurtful. Because a couple typically knows one another better than anyone else on Earth, there are so many insights about one another that can help or hurt.
Every so often I think of this quote from Nietzsche:
"You should honor even the enemy in your friend. In your friend you should possess your best enemy. Your heart should feel closest to him when you oppose him." (Friedrich Nietzsche)
What to share? How to share? When? When not? "How can we have a deep discussion and not let it become an argument?" "We just don't talk about things like we used to." Here is the huge topic of "communication" in a close relationship: To be able to bring those images to life, allowing them to change, develop, and adapt to all that life brings us. The mirrors cannot be images frozen in time.