Before You Get Engaged

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A Zen Koan for Post-Valentine's Day: Do you have "healthy doubt" or "unhealthy doubt" about whether your partner is "The One"

Do you have "healthy" or "unhealthy" doubt about your partner?

 

A Zen Koan for Post-Valentine’s Day:

Do you have “healthy doubt” or “unhealthy doubt” about whether your partner is “The One”?

First let me say a word about the Zen Koan.  Within Zen meditation practice, a Koan is a statement or puzzle which is designed to resist an immediate clear and logical understanding, but may allow one to come to an intuitive understanding or greater spiritual awareness when quietly contemplated.  

My own experience meditating with Koans for over fifteen years is that they have the power to break through the preconceived ideas, conditioned thoughts, and powerful forces of habit that constrain us from being truly clear in our perceptions of ourselves and those that populate the universe around us.

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 Along these lines, there are few concepts as rigidly engrained in our consciousness as that of the "perfect soul mate", or more simply put, “The One”.  In my previous blog entry I described my own experience in confronting and working through my own preconceived notions as to who might be my "perfect" partner.  In this entry, I’d like to explore the idea of “The One” or the "soul mate" from a slightly different angle.

I’d like to begin our exploration of the concept by asking how it is we come upon the idea of “The One” and what such a concept really means in our society.

The title itself, "The One", has an almost messianic, religious flavor about it; the savior, the perfect mate, the one who will make all my loneliness go away and make me happy forever.  But how do we know who “The One” might be?  Is there some secret formula or some esoteric mystical understanding that will lead us to know whether a particular person meets such lofty requirements?

Most of us do not consciously think this way, but this image of “The One” is such a common theme in our society and in its media that it’s often lurking in the back of the minds of one or the other partner in a relationship.  As a concept, it raises the stakes of making a mistake in that an ‘incorrect’ choice of mate means you have not only ended up with a person who is not “The One”, but one who is quite simply “The Wrong One”.  Wooed by this notion of the ideal mate, everyone doubts at some point whether or not she has made the ‘right’ choice.  I would, however, like to encourage you to reevaluate this largely media driven image of “The One”. 

Why should you reconsider?  First, because it is extremely unlikely that there is only one perfectly compatible, "right" person in the world for you and secondarily, because even those who are compatible with us will sometimes hurt and disappoint us.  Therefore, anyone can make you doubt the "rightness" of your match!

At this point, I’d like to reintroduce the notion of the Zen Koan, but with a nod toward our own potential mate’s suitability for us

Do I have “healthy doubt” or “unhealthy doubt” about my partner’s suitability for me?

Doubt, uncertainty and the feeling of not knowing for sure is not a problem!   In fact, contrary to what we might at first think, experiencing such feelings can be the greatest path toward intuitive certainty.   To this end, my Zen Master would often say, “don’t know”, is closest to “enlightenment”, or intuitive understanding.  What did he mean by this and how might such understanding help us attain greater clarity in our relationships?

Doubt that arises after a series of repeated hurts allows a person to attain a very important perspective that can lead you to re-evaluate your fixed image of who your partner is and come up with one that more closely matches your actual experience rather than your ideal notions

Furthermore, in this process of stepping back to re-evaluate your concept of “the other”, you will take greater stock of the relationship from a more centered and self-aware perspective.  This can give you the courage in turn to address the “real” issues head on, and find out whether your partner is really capable of meeting your needs.  This is indeed healthy doubt in that it leads to greater dialogue and the possibility of creating a truly nourishing relationship.

Not all doubt though is healthy doubt, and being able to recognize the difference is crucial!  Unhealthy doubt is that which comes from being enslaved by the concept of “The One”.  This is a chronic doubt; a critical voice you hear every time you feel that you and your partner experience conflict.  This kind of doubt leads a person to withdraw, sulk, feel hopeless, and begin obsessively to question every aspect of the relationship with an eye toward criticism-- not clarity.  This unhealthy doubt arises from a fundamental misunderstanding.  It gains its power from the idea that “The One” would never cause you any of the negative feelings that stem from emotional betrayal. 

So what’s the answer to the meditative Zen Koan of healthy vs. unhealthy doubt? Well, in true Zen fashion, its answer is a unique one for each individual relationship, but know that it is an intuitive one; one which places us in a position of comfort with our partner’s relational shortcomings in that we recognize even the most wonderfully compatible and nurturing partners are not always there for each other.  They too misunderstand and hurt each other and are thoughtless at times.     

In looking for a partner then, remember to encourage and contemplate your healthy doubt!  Such contemplation may lead you to develop the clarity needed to take tangible “fearless” action in your relationship and give you the unshakable “faith” your match was made not in some idealized realm, but right here in the real one.  

 

*  Part of this blog is based on chapter thirty-six in my book "51 things you should know before getting engaged" (Turner publishing, 2009, www.the51things.com)

 

Michael Batshaw, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and author of the new book, 51 Things You Should Know Before Getting Engaged.

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