What does it really mean to honor our beloved partner? What does it mean to honor the past and to even, honor ourselves? The definition of honor is to “regard with great respect”. In my work with couples, one thing I see over and over again, and which is at the root of couples’ conflict and individual distress, is a lack of honor between partners. When this happens, it results in one or both partners feeling deeply misunderstood, invalidated and hurt. When one does not honor their beloved, in essence, they are not listening to, and seeing and remembering the heart and soul and unique self of their partner.
In my work with couples, we discuss past experiences that have greatly influenced who each partner is today. I do this, not to dwell in the past, but because each person enters an intimate relationship carrying with them all the memories and experiences prior to knowing each other. Ironically, it is only when we dive deeply into understanding the past that we can begin to let go of it, integrate valuable lessons into our whole selves and no longer be held captive by painful experiences and past events.
Whether we like it or not, past memories and experiences greatly influence our current ideas and expectations within intimate relationships. In therapy, I spend time talking about each partner’s families of origin, previous intimate relationships and significant life events. We explore what happened, when, each was at their most vulnerable in life. Was love, compassion, understanding and support available consistently? Or were those essential experiences missing? When people experience loss, abandonment, physical violence or emotional/verbal abuse, when they have been neglected, bullied, or disrespected, or marginalized these wounds are carried into present day relationships.
One of the gifts to be found in our present day, intimate relationship is the potential for healing and renewal. Having another acknowledge and understand our past and what has influenced our development, affirms and soothes the hurt. When our partner responds with compassion and empathy, old pain stored in our brain shifts and then can be released. Receiving compassion, understanding, and affirmation allows us to be more receptive to learn the lessons contained in our suffering but no longer be captive to it. Together with our partner, we create the space necessary to step into freedom and begin to create a new story with infinite opportunities for a more loving, secure and joyful present. Together, partners can renew their trust in the goodness of life and love. This is how we are truly honor each other.
Mark Nepo says the following about “honor”: “So at the deepest level, when I say I honor you, this means that, when I become conscious or aware of you, I make a commitment to keep that truth visible from that moment forward. To honor you means that what I’ve learned about you becomes part of our geography. It means that what has become visible and true will not become invisible again.”
The responsibility of remembering and honoring falls on the one who has been a witness to the other’s story. In every intimate relationship we are provided multiple opportunities to keep our partner’s truth visible. These moments are opportunities in which we can say, “Now that I truly know you and your life story and how it has influenced you, I have a deep understanding of you. I remember what you told me, I remember your story, I remember who you truly are in your deepest, most fragile places. I see your vulnerability; I see your strength. I am committed to remembering and honoring these parts of you. How can I help to reduce your suffering?”
To honor… to regard with great respect… to become conscious of another and keep that truth close to one’s heart. What can be more intimate than that? Honoring another requires us to be open, receptive, compassionate and to listen deeply. It requires us to remember. Nothing carries more power to heal than when we honor each other. The more we are able to take the lessons of the past and integrate them into who we have become, the more we can be disentangled from the pain. When we are blessed to have a partner who truly wants be our companion on that journey, our ability to be free of the past increases. When your partner looks at you with true understanding and remembering of all that you are, you are being deeply honored. And this, more than anything else, gives us that sense that we are truly home and safe and deeply loved for our unique and authentic self.
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