It’s Time We Saw Our Loved Ones How They See Themselves: 7 Powerful Tips

Relationships experts Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LeKelly Hunt Ph. D. have something to say!

man holding a mirror with a reflection of his partner in it @jesmartini | TikTok, Karolina Grabowska, Kwangmoozaa | Canva

In the complex world of relationships, it's all too easy to fall in love with the idea of someone rather than the person themselves. We often construct an image of our partner in our minds, an image shaped by our own desires, expectations, and fantasies.

But this idealized version of our loved one is not real love; it's a façade that can lead to misunderstandings and disappointment. True love, it turns out, lies in seeing our partners as they see themselves.


What Does Seeing Someone How They See Themselves Mean?

Seeing someone as they see themselves means looking beyond the preconceived notions we've built about them and truly understanding their individuality. It means acknowledging that your idea of them doesn't exist – they are their own unique person with their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Harville Hendrix Ph.D. and Helen LeKelly Hunt Ph.D. were recently invited on the Open Relationships podcast with YourTango founder and CEO Andrea Miller where they shared some insightful advice for couples, "For true real love, you need to be able to see your partner the way they see themselves. If you are not, then all you are seeing is your idea of them and then they cease to exist." 




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The destruction of an imagined idea of your partner can be a daunting process, but it's a necessary one for building an authentic connection. This constructed image often doesn't align with who your partner truly is, leading to misunderstandings and discord.

How to Know If You're Seeing Your Partner or Projecting

A crucial aspect of seeing your partner as they see themselves is self-awareness.


To determine if you're truly seeing your partner or projecting your own expectations onto them, consider the following questions:

  • Am I actively listening? If you find yourself talking more than listening, you might be projecting your own desires and thoughts onto your partner.
  • Do I acknowledge their unique qualities? Recognize and appreciate your partner's individuality, even when it doesn't align with your expectations.
  • Am I trying to change them? If you frequently attempt to mold your partner into your ideal image, you may be projecting your own vision onto them.
  • Do I embrace their imperfections? Accepting their flaws without trying to change them is a sign that you're seeing them for who they are.
  • Am I supportive without judgment? Being proud of their accomplishments and offering support during failures indicates that you're focused on their self-perception rather than your own.

7 Powerful Tips to See Our Loved Ones How They See Themselves

1. Listen and Understand Them

The first step to seeing your loved one as they see themselves is to listen and understand them. Engage in open, honest conversations about their values, dreams, passions, and everything that defines them. By actively listening, you bridge the gap between your perception and their reality.

2. Mirror your partner in conversation.

Mirroring is a skill that is essential to Imago Therapy, a technique developed by Helen and Harville in 1980. Mirroring helps us slow down conversations and sets up a structure to help us feel certain that we're hearing the specific meaning behind what a person is saying.

As you may expect, in mirroring you simply reflect what your partner is saying.


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Here is an example from fictional couple Emma and Chris:

Emma: "I feel like I don't have enough time to really dive deep into some of the things I'm interested in outside of work. I really feel like I might be getting a little burned out."

Chris: "I hear you, but let me make sure I'm understanding. You feel like you don't have enough time to practice your hobbies because work is so overwhelming lately, especially since you're feeling burned out from work."

Emma: "That's pretty close, but what I really mean is that if I had more time to do my hobbies and pursue some fun interests, I might not feel as burned out from work."


Chris: "Ah, that makes sense. Let me see if I've got that. You could prevent some burnout from work if you had more time dedicated to doing the things that are fun for you?"

Emma: "Exactly!"

Chris: "Is there more to that? Are there ways you'd like me to help make that happen?"

Emma: "I don't think there's more, and there's probably no way for you to help with that, but I appreciate your offer. I think I just need to put time for fun on my calendar. Thank you for hearing me out on this."

3. Ask your partner the best way you can support them.

A New York Times article shared an insight from a special-education teacher, Heather Stella, who offers one question that helps us solve the problem of assuming we know what our partners need when they're having a tough time —"Do you want to be helped, hugged, or heard?" 


This allows you to step outside of your own expectations of what they need from you and be open to hearing and seeing what they believe will truly help. As Chris did in the example above, he offered help without telling her what to do, which she could politely decline if she wanted to solve the problem on her own.

If your partner wants to be heard but not helped, then you're seeing what you think they need, not what they do need.

4. Embrace Their Flaws

Nobody is perfect, and that's what makes us unique. Embrace your partner's flaws, understanding that imperfections are a part of the beauty of being human.

However, it's essential to differentiate between accepting weaknesses and tolerating abusive behavior. Boundaries are crucial in any relationship.


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5. Be Shamelessly Proud of Them

Celebrate your partner's accomplishments and support them when they stumble. Be their biggest cheerleader and confidant. When you are shamelessly proud of your partner, you affirm their worth and significance in your life.

Your pride reflects your love and acceptance of how they see themselves.

6. Never, Ever Compare Them

Comparing your partner to an ideal image in your mind only leads to disappointment and resentment. Every individual is unique, and attempting to fit them into a mold will only damage your connection.


Avoid comparing your loved one to others – it's a recipe for dissatisfaction.

7. Treat Them Like a Human Being

Remember, your loved one is not an object or a prize to be won. They are complex, living, and breathing human beings with their own agency and choices. Treat them with respect, equality, and acceptance.

Their identity goes beyond your imagination; it's rooted in their own experiences and aspirations.

It's time to let go of the constructed image of your loved one and embrace the beauty of how they see themselves. Real love flourishes when we accept our partners for who they truly are, flaws and all. By following these five powerful tips, you can foster a deeper, more authentic connection in your relationship.


As you discard the idealized image, you'll find that the reality of your loved one is far more beautiful and fulfilling.

Author's Note: We are incredibly fortunate at YourTango to have real friendships with Harville & Helen, and, even though I’m new here, I know we’re all on a first-name basis. So please forgive me, former journalism school professors, for not referring to them by their last names in this piece. It just feels too formal for people we would call family here.

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Deauna Roane is an associate editor for YourTango who covers pop culture, lifestyle, astrology, and relationship topics. She's had bylines in Emerson College's literary magazine, Generic, and MSN.