Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Love Means–Wanting To Know Your Partner More

One of the most recognized signs of relationship potential is someone’s interest in knowing us. They want to know about our past, our present, and our dreams for the future. They want our opinion of the movie and whether we like sushi or pasta. They look at us with rapt attention. When we resonate with mutual interest and delight, when we also want to know about them, we share an essential ingredient for falling in love- the desire to know.

Falling Out of Knowing

A  study reported in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that young couples are actually better than long-term partners at knowing each other’s preferences. In this study of 38 young couples aged 19 to 32 and 20 older couples aged 62 to 78; the older couples had far more difficulty correctly predicting their partners’ food preferences.

Adding to this counterintuitive finding is the fact that the older couples actually expressed more confidence in “knowing” their partners than the younger couples and they actually knew less. Older couples also predicted that their partner’s preferences would be similar to theirs – they were wrong!!

What Does This Suggest?

The authors of the study prompt us to wonder – How do we fall out of “knowing” our partners? Is there a tendency over time to pay less attention to our partners?  Do we actually project more and understand less?

The Reality of Change

  • The definition of the verb “to know” is to understand as fact or truth, to be acquainted with, and to understand from experience.
  • We may know from experience, for example, that in terms of personality traits, our partner is more open to experiences than we are, more extroverted, less nervous, perhaps more affectionate. While such traits are enduring, they can be shaped over time by many other factors that change what we know about our partner or ourselves.

Without the stress of work, a retired partner may be more affectionate and far less argumentative.

After a medical scare a partner may want to take risks and see the world in a way we never would predict.

  • Perhaps the underlying message of the study above is the realization that partners and the relationships they share are never static. Whether by choice, age, or crisis, we change and so do our partners. The question is whether we are interested enough to notice.

The Paradox of Knowing

Isn’t trust and stability in a relationship built on predictability? Yes and No. In his book,Can Love Last, Stephen Mitchell implies that to keep romance alive, we need to feel the safety of the known while we dare to embrace the unknown in self and partner.

 The Challenges to Knowing

When working with couples trying to understand one another, it goes without saying that the counterpart to “knowing” your partner is the “wish to be known.” A close look at the following couple dynamics will highlight some of the challenges to really knowing and being known over time.

Presumptions of Knowing

While most partners are delighted by the other’s efforts to remember the exact name and size of their designer coffee or the perfect returnable holiday gift, presumptions of knowing often impede the process of knowing a partner.

  • Most partners don’t want the other to finish their sentence or question a change.

“ That’s not what I was going to say.”

“Since when do you order fish?”

  • In many cases the presumption of knowing precludes the possibility of growing.

“I turned down the hiking invitation with the Clarks – I told them you don’t like to sweat.”  

” What if I wanted to try sweating and hiking?”

Failure to Recognize Change

One of the most distressing things for partners is the failure to be recognized for changes that they have already made. It not only impedes “knowing”– it is often cause for anger and despair.

“I can’t believe you are saying that I don’t fly…Who was with you on the last vacation to California?”

” Never cared about your family?…Who took care of your mother when she fell?”

One wonders if the failure to know a partner in a new way reflects the anxiety associated with any changes (good or bad) in the person you once knew.

Needing to Know Too Much

  • Texts or emails many times a day may be valuable to partners who both want to know the daily life of the other in detail.
  • For others, this may feel like a demand to know that actually turns off the wish to be known.
  • What you know about your partner should unfold in a way that is natural and works for both.

 Mini Exercise

  • When was the last time you sat across from your partner and really wanted to know his/her opinion?
  • When was the last time you asked your partner what he/she would do if they were given a vacation to anywhere?
  • When was the last time you asked your partner to explain something you wanted to learn? ( From recipes to sports)
  • When was the last time you let your partner know about something you have wanted to do your entire life?
  • When was the last time you noticed an unexpected behavior in your partner that you really liked?
  • When was the last time you asked your partner what he/she thinks would happen if you were both single and just met? What would you talk about…and more?

The Importance of the Desire to Know

  • Elie Wiesel tells us that, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
  •  When there is no desire to know the partner, the spark, the joy and the possibilities of a truly close relationship disappear.
  • Partners stay insiders to each other when they confide, take an interest and what to know more.
  • It simply is not enough to once have known or to presume to know.
  • Part of the vibrancy of a relationship is to cherish what was and look forward to what else can be.

Maybe “to know” is to love and “to keep on knowing is to keep on loving! ”

Be sure to check out my website for more blogs and radio shows – Thanks, Suzanne