You know how you can be in the midst of a conversation with someone and their view seems so lopsided that you begin to feel yourself becoming annoyed? That moment is the beginning of real intimacy in relationships. Sometimes we try to avoid it or we feel it as a distancing experience. But if you get right down to it, that is one of the significant “getting to know you” moments. We already know what we think. Now we get to pay attention to what they think. When we can understand that someone is different from us, and when we can–with a lot of effort–come to realize this is desirable, that is the beginning of being able to be close to another person who is separate from us.
Part of developing the capacity for adult relationships is making this switch from viewing differences as dangerous to viewing differences as interesting. When we can understand that the success of a relationship is not predicated upon our agreeing with the other person, or their agreeing with us, we are free to be ourselves and to appreciate the other person being him or herself. A relationship can be a process of getting to know another person and being known by that person.
We may not agree with that person’s choices or opinions. It is not the way we would live our lives. Not at all. But for that person, it seems like the best choice at the moment. When we realize other people’s lives belong to them and are about them, then we can allow them the space to grow and develop while at the same time staying connected and interested.
Of course it is not always possible to be so mature. Sometimes we fall back into old habits of relating. But overall, we can decide what we think is a better way of being together, and we can move toward it. In small steps perhaps, but nonetheless steadily. And then, over a very long time, our deepest relationships can grow and become the constructive, restorative havens we all need in an uncertain and distracted world.