By Kimberly Schluterman
In The Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine said, “The experience of being understood, versus interpreted, is so compelling, you can charge admission.” I was intrigued by the statement at first, but it wasn’t until my husband and I were sitting across from each other at Cici’s Pizza that I came to recognize the wisdom in it. After nearly a year of marriage, I realized that we have moved from getting to know each other more each day to already knowing each other. Obviously, we knew each other pretty well before we married, and likewise, living together as husband and wife deepened that knowledge. We’ve been more-than-just-friends for more than four years, and married for one year, but it’s just now that I’m feeling like we know each other sufficiently so that learning about each other isn’t the most obvious function of our relationship.
With this much familiarity, it would be easy for us to be bored. After all, when the relationship is no longer interesting (new), it seems natural to lose interest in it. And for some marriages, that may be true, but not a godly marriage. In a godly marriage, each partner recognizes that familiarity and the intimacy of being known is so much more compelling than the thrill of getting to know.
This dynamic of being known to be understood is active in other relationships as well. If you watch any reality show in which strangers are suddenly required to live or work together (Celebrity Apprentice, Big Brother, Survivor, The Real World), it quickly becomes apparent that the most stressful part of the experience for most people is living with strangers. It’s so easy to be misunderstood and to misunderstand, and so much more difficult to know a person, that misunderstanding and conflict run abound. Actually, both in real life and in “real”ity TV, true conflict is often the result of misunderstanding.
In retrospect, I realize that one of my favorite things about college was the ability I had to control the company I kept. At worst, I was forced to work with someone I disliked for a class project – the duration of a semester. Pretty much everyone else I didn’t like, I could avoid. However, when I started working, I realized that I no longer had control over my company. I was forced to work with the same people whether I liked them or not, trying to remain professional and respectful, day in, day out, week after week and month after month. There was no four-month cutoff to liberate me from irascible people. If we had conflict, we could either work it out or be miserable every day. And when conflict came from misunderstanding, as it so often did, the only real solution was to learn to understand the other person.
In my relationship with my husband, I know that even when I say something the wrong way or it just comes out completely different than it was in my head, he will take the time to try to understand what I really meant. Furthermore, he has years of previous context in which to frame it. If I say something out of character, he will recognize it as such and either ask me to explain or realize it wasn’t what I meant and move on. Even better, I don’t have to constantly defend my imperfections because he already knows what they are and has accepted me despite them.
And that’s really the best part of any familiar, knowing relationship. When someone already knows you, you don’t have to pretend to be better than you are. “Company behavior,” I call it. Not that you shouldn’t always put your best foot forward, and not that those who love you don’t deserve the best version of you, but when your humanity really does come to the front, those who understand your heart will know how to take it.
Finally, it occurs to me that nobody knows us as well as our Creator. Even better than we know ourselves, He knows our hearts, our minds, our intentions, our motivations and our humanity. When something comes off really wrong, but we know in our heart that it was meant as good, He knows that our heart was good. When we make a nice face even though our heart is ugly at the moment, He knows that too. At the end of the day, the experience of being known, rather than guessed at, really is pretty fantastic.
I’ll admit I don’t always want to take the time to know the other person because sometimes I simply don’t like her. But just as Jesus knows us perfectly and thus can love us perfectly, the better we know, the better we can love. I’m not really happy about it, but there it is. In our lives and relationships, we should make a point to understand as we want to be understood – to listen and ask questions when something is unclear – so that we can come closer to the perfect love that we enjoy every day from our Creator.