What is learning? Learning is a process of active engagement. It is what people do when they want to make sense of the world and their surroundings. It involves developing skills, knowledge, understanding, values and feelings to be and do better. And, hopefully, it not only leads to improvement but also leads to the desire to learn more. Learning is critical; it is essential for our well-being. And believe it or not, it is also vital for the health of our relationships.
Loving and learning go hand in hand. Why? Because you can’t really love someone if you don’t know who you are. And, you can’t really love someone without learning who they are. To have a loving and fulfilling relationship, there are three types of learning that are needed to support, sustain and solidify a loving union. You have to learn ABOUT, FROM and WITH your partner.
Learning ABOUT your partner is probably the easiest, yet the least intimate, way to learn. Just by surfing the internet, you can obtain information about her education, credit score, criminal record, employment history, home ownership status and any other information you deem important. You can also learn about your partner from interacting with her friends and from her selection of friends. You can learn about her from her families and her colleagues. You can also learn about her by observing her in different settings and in different situations. Whatever you want to know, there are resources to help you learn and get the information you want and need.
But learning ABOUT your partner’s history is not enough to really get to know her. You still have to learn about her in order to respect her, trust her and have empathy for her. You have to learn about her communication skills (or lack of) and her love language. You also have to learn about her to determine if you are truly compatible and if you have chemistry. You have to learn about her values, perspectives and how she views their world. Without learning ABOUT your partner you do not have the basic information needed to successfully love her.
Even though you initially learn ABOUT your partner– her history, culture, values, temperament, and other aspects of her –there are some pitfalls to relying on information obtained from external sources and from your own observations. First, the more you learn, the more you tend to believe that you know all there is to know. And as a result, you stop learning and discovering who she is; you start to assume. You start to think that you know what is best for her. You start making decisions for her. You start labeling and limiting her. You start confining her based on your own assumptions and biases. In many ways, you stifle her, you and the relationship. And as a result, the relationship fails.
Relationships fail because learning ABOUT is never sufficient or effective to build a relationship or develop true intimacy. Why? Because having the facts, does not mean that you know the truth. Knowing events does not mean you appreciate the circumstances surrounding the events. Knowing her history does not mean you really know her. To really get to know her, you must progress to the next level of learning –learning FROM.
Learning FROM your partner is considerably more powerful and more endearing that just learning about her. When we learn FROM our partners, we are bestowing honor on them. When we ask questions, seek understanding, inquire about their thoughts, we are saying in essence: I need you to teach me. You are saying : you are important, you are unique, I can’t do this alone and I won’t be successful at loving you without you. The very act of asking and listening gives your partner permission to tell you exactly how she feels, sees, knows and experiences the world. And when your partner really knows that you care, she is more inclined to tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want to hear. Learning from her promotes intimacy, N-2- ME-See, and trust.
Despite the benefit of learning FROM our partners, many people still struggle to open their minds and hearts to learn from their lovers after they have learned about the lovers. But learning FROM is more important than learning about. Learning FROM your lover allows her to fill in the gaps in her history that cannot be explained by data. She is the only one you can tell you what the experiences meant, and how the events/experiences shaped her. She is the only one who can put the facts into context. And as I stated earlier, learning about her may give act facts, but learning from her gives you the truth.
Consider this example: You learn that your partner attended 3 colleges before she graduated. That’s a fact. But without learning from her, you would not know that she had to finance her education and sometimes she had to quit school or transfer schools to save money to complete her education. That’s the truth. If you love you partner, you must give her an opportunity to share her truth. You must give her an opportunity to share variables and circumstances that mere facts can’t explain. In a loving relationship, you must learn FROM her, to really know her.
Despite the benefits of learning FROM our partners, many people struggle to learn from their loved ones. And, we struggle primarily for three key reasons. First, we all have a need to feel superior to something or somebody which limits our willingness to open our minds and hearts to others. In a nutshell, we all suffer from varying degrees of arrogance. Secondly, many of us are not secure enough to admit when we don’t know something so we continue to conceal what we do not know until our ignorance finally catches up to us. Thirdly, sometimes we have difficulty learning because our partners don’t know how to teach us in a way that we find helpful, hopeful and healing. And since we are unable or unwilling to learn or since they are unable or willing to teach in a way that resonates, we don’t absorb information from them.
Let’s face it - arrogance, ignorance and poor communication have ruined many relationships, and if not successfully addressed, will also ruin yours. So try to keep in mind that when you learn, she learns. When she learns, you learn. Remember that your partner can be a great source of information that can make you a broader thinker, a better employee, a more effective parent, a more loving person and a more insightful human being. Learning FROM is a lifelong attitude that enriches you, honors her and strengthens your relationship.
The rarest, but the most powerful way of learning is learning WITH. This way of learning recognizes that the best learning happens in relationships and in mutuality where neither person feels above or beneath the other. It is a relationship that honors that each partner is simultaneously a teacher and student willing to journey through life together. It is a type of learning that builds trust, resilience and deep respect.
Learning WITH also sharpens you in ways that could never happen alone. Yet, many of us find learning WITH someone uncomfortable. But let’s face it – your partner has different skills, talents and experiences that makes her an expert in areas that you are not. You may have education and abilities that she does not have also. The blessing is that if you are both secure in who you are and secure in the relationship, you can teach each other. You can share knowledge that multiplies both of your abilities and skill sets. You can have synergy.
Learning WITH can only happen in an environment of great trust, mutual respect and mutual humility. The concept of learning WITH appreciates that you are equals who have chosen to be interdependent and connected in good times and in bad times. Learning WITH celebrates that there is mutual investment in and mutual gain from the union. And most of all, learning WITH is essential for a long-lasting, mutually satisfying relationship.
Learning is important for entering and growing in a relationship. So keep the following in mind.
· Learning about provides facts about your partner, but not necessarily the truth. Only your partner can provide the context to give meaning to the facts.
· Learning from provides understanding and helps you build enduring and trusting relationships. So be open to learning and growing from your partner. Don’t allow arrogance, ignorance and poor communication skills limit you. She is and can be a wealth of information.
· Learning with builds loving relationships where both partners probe each other’s hearts, minds and souls in a way that fosters trust, authenticity, growth and interdependence. Learning with transitions your relationship from “you/me” to “we”.
The African proverb says that “learning is like sailing the ocean, no one has ever seen it all”. So continue to love and learn, and learn to love to experience a love that no one has ever seen or experienced before. You deserve it, and your partner does too.