THE BLOG
01/10/2013 09:32 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Wabi Sabi Wisdom

It's a hard truth, and no one escapes it: Our loved ones -- simply because they're in separate skins -- at times can't help but let us down.

My partner is a business guy. He cares deeply about my feelings, but his own feelings just don't fascinate him. I, on the other hand, am the Feelings Channel: All feelings, all the time. Give me a free hour, and I'll find an inner mountain to climb, a psychic skirmish to be explored and overcome. I can universalize a hole in a bagel. He's happy just to eat his and move on. Sometimes, it's hard on both of us.

Some of you are probably thinking "poor Ken." More of you might thinking "poor Greg." Well, yes -- and no.

Psychology teaches us that healthy relationships go through a constant flow of "rupture and repair." The connection gets broken, and both parties struggle to find the tools to fix things between them. Rupture occurs right at the gap between differing perspectives, conflicting needs. Facing each other, my right will always be your left. Rupture comes naturally, and usually, it hurts.

So how do we get from rupture to repair? What's the secret map to that buried treasure for couples?

Arielle Ford's book Wabi Sabi Love gives us a whole new understanding of the path to relationship happiness. The inspiration behind this book is called Wabi Sabi: the ancient Japanese artform of finding beauty in flaws. According to Ford, Wabi Sabi "honors all things old, weathered, imperfect and impermanent by finding the beauty and perfection in the imperfections." In the Wabi Sabi aesthetic, a Ming Vase with a crack down the center might be put on display --with a spotlight shining right on the crack. Through the insights of Wabi Sabi, we learn how to experience disappointment, even heartbreak, in an entirely new way. By holding brokenness and beauty together, Wabi Sabi teaches us a wiser way to love.

Wabi Sabi Love is a book about ruptures, large and small, and the wisdom that allows love to flourish around them. The stories start small: dirty socks strewn on the floor, clashing communication styles. As the book progresses, the ruptures become more profound: infidelity, neglect, profound emotional distance. As these betrayals grow in magnitude, their healings become more and more poignant. I found myself frequently moved to tears by the stories in this book because, in the end, they were simply stories of kindness.

It's so tempting to imagine that we can iron out all our immaturities, transcend all our grief and insecurities. Yet, as Ford points out, our soul is found within our brokenness. A minister friend of mine is fond of saying: "God transmits at the weakest link." Wabi Sabi Love encourages us to find beauty right in the heart of our partner's -- and our own -- broken parts; to name that beauty, hold it, even cherish it. There's no one in the world who doesn't need more of that skill.

In the land of personal growth work, I've found that there's a secret blood-sport. It's called "find the dysfunction -- and pulverize it." These are the rules of the game: Whoever finds pathology first and fixes it quickest, wins. There's an unkindness to this approach; an impatience camouflaged as healing. It's clear that Ford has little interest in that game. In her bemused perspective lies relief. Most of us are chafed from years of "fixing." Instead, Ford teaches us to laugh. To remember the goodness. In story after story, people stumble upon ways of approaching their relationships with kindness, and somehow that kindness, while it may not "fix" anything, invites a path to healing that no one could have anticipated.

Many years ago, I asked an artist friend of mine why she squinted while painting portraits.

"Harsh outlines distract me from the soul of my subject. I have to squint in order to soften my vision. That's how I can see who's truly in front of me."

Wabi Sabi wisdom teaches us to squint when we look at our partners. To step back and notice the most ironic miracle of all: The ways our partners make us crazy are inseparable from the reasons we adore them.

In his song "Anthem," Leonard Cohen says" Forget your perfect offering. There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

More and more, I've come to believe that this crack is where lasting love takes root.

Recently, before going to bed, Greg and I were sharing stories about our day. I had just finished a long tale of my struggles, triumphs and disappointments. As usual, he listened with interest and care. When I was done, I asked about his day.

"I was super-busy. There were meetings from the moment I got to work until I left late."

I turned to him, smiled, and said "Can we maybe find a feeling in there?" He took a few moments to think. Then he looked at me and simply said, "I felt how much I love you."

His response stunned me for a moment. Of all the possible feelings Greg might have had, there was only one he found worth noticing -- and it was his love for me. I felt very grateful for the constancy of his love, and awed at our differences. This was my Wabi Sabi moment, and I'm so thankful that I didn't miss it.

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