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The challenge to really know the people we love most

Portrait of father and daughter laughing and being happy.

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Jim Schroeder - published on 11/02/22

Why are the people we love sometimes the hardest to know and understand?
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Have you ever had the thought that the people you love the most can also be the hardest ones to really know and understand?  

I recently came across a quote by author Norman Maclean that stated, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” It struck me as a profound statement, one we can all identify with at various points in our lives.  

As days and weeks have passed since reading this, I’ve repeatedly come back to a few ideas about why this seems to cut into the heart of our human experience. 

Understanding vs. compliance

For starters, most of us tend to be a people of will and drive, often focused on what needs to happen and then on what we do (and feel) when it doesn’t. When people we love the most don’t agree with or like our willful, driven behaviors, we tend to be more reactive than reflective, losing out on the potential for understanding that might ultimately bring us closer. 

For example, as a parent myself, I recognize that when it comes to my kids I am more oriented towards compliance than understanding — especially the busier and more demanding a situation. While reasonable, this can serve to reduce opportunities for unity through understanding instead of compliance through demand.  

It’s also true, though, that even if we were to understand each other better, it wouldn’t necessarily bring us closer — although I would argue that empathy and responsiveness are the framework from which all good relationships are built. 

The reason for this is that sometimes what we come to know about another person annoys us or altogether infuriates us. While we might love someone dearly, the better we know his or her habits and idiosyncrasies, the more it can grate on us in a perpetual way. In this case, we are left with a few key options beyond change of self and others — one of which is to move around and away from that which bothers us the most. 

And so we may find that others elude us not because they’re necessarily trying to be evasive, but because we are avoiding what is required to forge a closer bond.

A privileged journey

Still, as water runs deep as do we, even in the presence of understanding and a focus on unity, it seems that this inherent elusiveness may not always be a harbinger of bad things to come. 

I do think that in our desire to be with others in a closer way, we create expectations that spawn more disappointment than is good. While most of us need to prioritize mutuality and connectedness, the world is better when each of us cultivates a sense of altruism and gratitude for what our loved ones bring to us, and not a sense of disappointment and loss for what they do not.  

It’s easy to want it all — an intimate, mutual, satisfying relationship — from those we love the most. But in desiring a relationship to its fullness, and being disappointed when it fails to reach these heights, we fail to see what relationships actually can be — a privileged journey into the vulnerable, intimate recesses of each of our lives. 

Even the most outgoing of persons harbors a private world of great vastness, a good degree of which is not even known to them. The degree to which we become part of this varies during a lifetime, but always leaves a footprint in their journey and an impression in ours.  

As mysterious and frustrating as relationships can be, we might be better served to first focus on all the meaningful and interesting ways we do flow and grow together, and the richness it provides for our lives.  

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