previous relationship partners are educators about ourselves

in the alain de botton episode of design matters, alain dropped a piece of wisdom that has really shifted how i think about relationships. the moment is around 21:30 but here’s my paraphrase:

one of the beautiful things about people getting into relationships when they’re older is that they bring knowledge about themselves from their previous relationships. these gems of knowledge often sound like “i really like ___” or “i think about ___ like this ___” or “i am this way…” or “i really appreciate ___.” but these gems may be the lessons of years of fights with a previous partner.

this, to me, is SUCH good perspective. sure, marrying your first partner certainly means you’re “unblemished” and without baggage. but some of the hurts from my first relationships i would never want to exist around me for the rest of my life.

i think sometimes relationships are better ended and left in the past. but that doesn’t mean that they were a waste of time. our previous partners really are our educators about ourselves.

and like the johari window explains, there are some things we just can’t learn on our own; we need other people to show them to us.

in a good partnership, we are each other’s teachers (another line dropped by alain in this episode). and, for those of us who have been through school, learning is hard. so is teaching (in fact, teaching might be harder). so, then to ask someone to be a teacher about yourself… for the rest of their lives… that is a HUGE ask. the hope, i think, is that the benefits outweigh the effort, but the effort is real.

and so, the more knowledge about ourselves that we’re able to carry with us into each subsequent relationship, the better it will (or could) be for each new partner.