It isn’t often that a concept that has the power to alter relationships has a name that is so fun to say.
Wabi-sabi (wobby sobby) is a Japanese term that is difficult to say without smiling that describes a profound way of viewing relationships with oneself, other people, and life in general. Richard Powell the author of Wabi Sabi Simple defined it as, “Accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality.”
An heirloom that has been passed down from generation to generation is prized, not despite the signs of use it shows, but because of those marks. Nobody ever claimed Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, or Lead Belly are great singers in the conventional sense of the word, but they are excellent singers from a wabi-sabi viewpoint.
Here are 5 important relationship takeaways from the concept of Wabi-sabi
1. Learning to find good in your partner’s imperfections
To be wabi-sabi in a relationship with another is more than tolerating your partner’s imperfections, it is to find the good in those so-called defects.
It is to find acceptance not despite the imperfections, but because of them. To be wabi-sabi in a relationship is to give up on trying to “fix” that person, which opens up more time and energy to be together with less conflict.
Relationships tend to go through stages. The first one is always infatuation or “falling in love.” The other person and the couple being created is seen as nearly perfect. The second stage is when one or the other members of the couple realize that things, meaning the other person, aren’t so perfect after all. With this realization, some people bail out of the relationship to once again search for that perfect person, their soul mate, that will complete them. But fortunately, most people decide to stay in their relationships and work things out.
Unfortunately, that usually means attempting to change the other person into being more the way he or she “should” be. Many couples spend the rest of their lives in a struggle to change the other.
Some people finally figure out the folly of trying to “fix” the other person in the relationship but continue to resent that their loved one won’t change. The resentment comes up in conflicts but is never resolved. Still, others manage to get to the point of tolerating the defects of their loved one without being resentful.
2. Being responsible for your response to your partner’s actions
Only a few couples manage to reach the stage where they begin to see the other person’s actions/thoughts/feelings not as a reflection of their own worth, but as opportunities for self-reflection. The members of these rare couples are those who take the position; “I am 100% responsible for my 50% of this relationship.” That attitude doesn’t mean one is 50% responsible for what the other person does, but it does mean one is completely responsible for how one responds to the other person’s actions.
3. Take note of two positive things your partner did in a day
One method for fostering a blissful relationship is a nightly exchange in which each individual takes responsibility for a mistake and takes note of two positive things the other person did that day.
Spouse 1-“One thing I did today that lessened our intimacy was not calling you back at the time we agreed I’d call. I apologize for that. One thing that you did to improve our intimacy was when you told me you were hurt and angry that I didn’t call back you didn’t yell, but said it calmly. A second thing you did that improved our intimacy today was thanking me for picking up the dry cleaning. I like it when you notice when I follow through on agreements and thank me.”
4. Learning to acknowledge your own imperfections
Focusing on one’s own imperfections rather than the other person’s while also noting the positive things the other person did change the style of interactions from that often found in highly conflicted relationships in which each person is an expert on what he or she did right and also an expert on what the other person did wrong.
5. Learning to be perfectly human and not perfect humans
Perhaps the most challenging relationship in which to practice wabi-sabi is with oneself. Our “defects of character,” and “shortcomings” are what made us who we are today. They are the psychological, emotional, and spiritual equivalent of the wrinkles, scars, and laugh-lines on our bodies.
We will never be perfect humans, but we can be perfectly human. As Leonard Cohen croaked in his wabi sabi song Anthem, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
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