This simple but powerful exercise can bring compassion and deep insight to your most important relationships and point you toward greater closeness, joy, and healing with your loved one. The exercise asks you to reflect on perhaps the two most important questions to ask in your relationship that can lead you to a richer, more connected life.
The questions are obvious, but our ability to discount and dishonor our responses to them is nothing short of breathtaking. You’ll see what I mean…
Start by choosing the relationship you want to focus on. Now, ask yourself:
-Which interactions in this relationship inspire me most?
-Which interactions in this relationship hurt me the most?
There’s something existentially important in our answers to these questions to ask in your relationship and here’s why: We get most hurt—and most inspired—precisely in the places where we care the most. And it is these parts of our psyche that influence our behaviors most powerfully.
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If you wish to create a truly useful “user’s manual” for the relationship you’re focusing on, you must become increasingly familiar with the answers to these two questions, both for yourself and for your loved one.
These tender parts of us are highly active in our closest relationships. I call them core gifts, and they are like our fingerprints. At first glance, they look similar to everyone else’s, but upon closer reflection, they are completely unique.
We all want to be loved, listened to, and validated—those are universal needs. However, the parts of ourselves that feel most vulnerable, where it feels most urgent that we are understood and appreciated, are the parts that need our greatest care and respect. Within them lie our unique genius, and our deepest ability to give and receive love.
Think back on your past experiences in this relationship. Using easy bullet points, reflect on your moments of inspiration — in other words, the joy, peace, connectedness, love, or meaning—and your moments of feeling hurt.
Don’t just look for the big hurts and inspirations. Remember the micro-hurts and the micro-joys. Those simple moments can tell you worlds about who you are, who your loved one is, and what matters most to each of you. In those recollections, there is a sense of truth—not necessarily grand universal truth but a sense of personal truth, a feeling that says, “This touches me where I live.”
For each bullet point, ask yourself, “What does this say about what’s most important to me?”
Pick out the themes that emerged again and again. When we take the time to notice these common themes, it’s like a connect-the-dots game. With careful attention, what emerges is a picture of our truest self.
We often pass over our moments of joy instead of relishing them. Many of us feel uncomfortable or unworthy in the presence of inspiration and try to minimize our good feelings: “Oh, well, everybody feels the same thing.” Or we instantly pair our joy with a self-deprecating comment that degrades or minimizes the positive feeling we’ve just had.
Inspiration can frighten us. It makes our defenses quake—it almost invites a superstitious fear of the other shoe dropping. We can bear joy for a few fleeting moments, but for most of us, appreciation all too quickly devolves into a critique.
We also minimize our hurts, telling ourselves that we are being too sensitive or that we should be the bigger person. Yet, if we don’t honor those hurts and listen closely to the truths they are trying to tell us, we are doomed to keep repeating the same interactive patterns again and again. As we learn to listen to the things that feel wrong, we notice large red flags more quickly, and learn from the “micro-hurts” we may not have even allowed ourselves to register in the past.
After doing this exercise, allow yourself time to process it and reflect. In going through this process, you will have touched upon the most precious and important parts of your being. That’s a very big thing. See if you can imagine what it would be like to honor those parts of yourself more deeply in this particular relationship, and in your life in general.
When you’re ready, it’s time for the next part of this exercise: to re-do the same process for your loved one. Try to place yourself in his or her shoes and imagine how he or she would answer these same questions about your relationship.
Again, for each point, ask yourself, “What does this say about what’s most important to my loved one?” Note the themes that emerge again and again. The more you understand and appreciate these precious parts of your loved one, the more he or she will feel loved and valued by you, and the more joy and connection will be possible in your relationship.
In all relationships, there are few greater keys to closeness than having these parts of ourselves seen and honored.
The more you do this exercise, the deeper your own self-love will become, and the deeper and more loving your relationships will be.
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