Remembering How to See Each Other - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 10, 2014

Remembering How to See Each Other

So frequently when I see a new couple in therapy, I am struck by a singular commonality.

Whether they enter hand-in-hand or knife-in-back, still starry-eyed or incredibly brow-beaten, very few partners seem to really, sincerely look at each other.

What does it mean to look, and is looking different from seeing?

While there are frequent glances and even long stares from partner to partner, these looks almost invariably carry their own agenda.

Rather than an attempt to see who is in front of us, these tend to be looks created either for evidence gathering or warning. They can range from expectant and glorifying to accusing, probing, or dismissive.

What is worth noting is that they almost always carry an embedded message. Whether it be fragile expectations like “please don’t let me down”, the projected unrealistic idealizations of “you will always be my princess”, or maybe even a hardened anger akin to “you are a lying, cheating dirtbag”.

Every glance seems to carry a message from the sender. It’s a remarkable defense which we have all, as humans, managed to adopt.

Rather than use our eyes to receive information in relationship, we quite often use them to deliver information instead.

While this certainly has served us many times in our lives, what it also means is that when we are in this “out but not in/sending but not receiving” mode, we are not facilitating change.

Change happens when we expand to accommodate a new idea, and allow space for a calcified view to shift… or possibly even be proven wrong.

Here is an incredibly simple yet challenging exercise that you can do with your partner. Allow about thirty minutes or more if you can, although even a few minutes can be of benefit:

1. Clear space.

Find a place where you can remove distractions as much as possible. Cell phones off, no television or music, and no objects which might distract attention, like food or magazines. The less possibility for interruption, the better.

2. Sit down…together.

This could be on a couch, this could be in two facing chairs, this could be in the grass outside… find a place where you each feel safe and comfortable.

In doing this, be sure that each of you are honoring not only your own boundaries, but also your partners. Close, but not too close.

3. Go into “Airplane Mode”.

In other words, no talking. This time is simply for observation. You can save the conversation for later.

4. Look.

Simply look at your partner, and see who is sitting in front of you. Look into his or her eyes, hair, nose, mouth, ears… the texture of the skin, her hair…

As you do this, see if you can observe without attaching any beliefs to what you see. For example, when looking at a partner’s hair you might normally think “I hate that coppery blonde.

I’ve told him a million times to stop dying it. That’s yet another thing that I hate about him, he doesn’t listen…”

Instead, see if you can just look at it for what it is- hair. Is it course, is it thinning, is it short or long, is it there at all…?

Just observe. Are you able to look without judging or attaching?

You will probably want to do this for about ten minutes. Just notice how your mood changes as the process goes on.

Do you feel any softening of spirit or gaze? Maybe a feeling of opening? Perhaps you’ll notice less rigidity in your body or in your mind. Maybe not. Simply attend to what is there.

You can put yourselves on a timer, or simply allow the process to take it’s own course.

1. Come back to you.

Close your eyes, take a moment to breathe and bring yourself back. Then open your eyes again. Every moment we have the opportunity to start over.

With your newly opened eyes, consider that you have once again started over. In fact, every moment is, by it’s very nature… new. Now, in this new moment, who do you see in front of you? Now look again.

2. Notice.

You might want to talk to each other and share your experience, or you may not. Either way, just noticing if your feelings towards your partner have softened.

There is no “right” outcome for this, other than to see your partner as purely as possible, just as he or she is in that very moment.

If we can look at another without all of our own projections onto them- judgement, ego, hurt, beliefs, resentments… there is virtually no way to feel animosity towards them.

A variation of a quote from the French novelist Marcel Proust comes to mind:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

The actual full quote is of course even more poignant:

“A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of the Earth.

The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is…” -Marcel Proust, “La Prisonniére”

So often we lose touch with the essence of the people most dear to us. It can happen slowly and almost imperceptibly.

Much like taking the same train to work every day, what once required our fixed attention (“Which track? When does it leave? What stop do I need?”) is now something that we can virtually do sleepwalking.

We may not see the signs that there is major track work ahead, and be taken completely by surprise when the transportation we relied upon has “suddenly” (because we stopped looking) changed.

Similarly, we become accustomed to our partner, and fail to see that he or she is always changing- new shoes, a new book on the bedside table, a new favorite song… In subtle and more distinct ways, we are each transformed every instant.

Blood is pumping, thoughts are arising, new experiences are constantly presenting themselves, never to be delivered the same way again.

See if you can work this exercise of really looking into your every day, in the morning over coffee or before you rush out the door- just take a minute or two.

Fathom the potential to “possess other eyes” for just a moment. The wonder is always there. It is our job to choose to see it.

About the author


Elizabeth Baum is a Marriage and Family Therapy Associate working with individuals and couples in New York City.

You may visit her website: for more information.