Why is it so hard to accept the person we love? Steven Lake explores this and more to understand the 3As for relationship success.
Relationship success, as many writers attest, requires some effort. The biggest effort is getting over how you think your partner should think, feel, or behave. It’s not your fault for having a schema of the perfect partner. You have been fed idealistic concepts about relationships since you were a baby. No one has escaped the cultural and family onslaught of indoctrination into what a relationship or marriage looks like.
Unfortunately, no one had the decency to tell you that it was a fantasy. Why? I don’t know. Maybe to make those people in long-term relationships feel better about themselves. Maybe, our parents didn’t want to disappoint us with the harsh realities of life and relationship. Maybe, people just don’t like looking at themselves and what they have created.
This is not to say that all relationships are screwed up. Not at all. But a lot are. If you happened to be born into a family where the parents had a loving and healthy relationship – lucky you. I hope you learned from your experience.
One of the things I have learned from couples who have healthy relationships, is to accept your partner, as they are, not as you wish them to be. This sounds rather obvious. And it is, in the beginning of the relationship, when we are tanked with hormones and on our best behavior. But over time, we get to see our partner in all their glory and it may not have been what we were expecting.
This is when being able to fully accept your lover is essential. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say, do, or believe. But you have to know that this is who they are. They are not you and for some people this can be upsetting. I know, hard to believe, but it is amazing how many people come into my office wanting me to change their partner — make them understand how incorrect they are in their beliefs and actions. This is non-acceptance at its highest form.
There is another acceptance that is helpful in relationships. That is accepting yourself. For some of us this is harder than accepting our partner. Self-acceptance, and I am not talking about narcissism, is the foundation for being able to relate to others in a healthy manner. Self-acceptance allows us to state our wants, needs and desires knowing full well that our partner may or may not be willing or able to fulfill them.
We understand the concepts of assertiveness, negotiation, compromise and love. We are focused on creating win/win situations and know that win/lose outcomes always end up being lose/lose. Sometimes we even have to agree to disagree but that does not change our love for the other person. It is our differences that make for interesting conversations (if we are not threatened by them). It is our differences that increase our perspective of the world if we are willing to truly listen. It is our differences that make our partner unique and exciting.
Once we have our head wrapped around acceptance, we can then move on to appreciation. Again, in the beginning of a relationship we appreciate everything about the other person. They seem perfect in our eyes and even those crazy things they do, well, that is just so cute, or goofy, or unique. But after a few years of leaving the cap off the toothpaste, even after repeated requests to change this behavior, cute looks like deliberate pissing me off.
There are a number of aspects of appreciation I will address. One is time based. The other is focus. The time-based aspect is a paradox. You can become more exasperated over time with their behaviors or, you become accepting.
Your acceptance may be due to the realization that things will never change and it ceases to be an issue (true acceptance). It may occur because of perspective. After being married, for say longer than ten, fifteen years, and you still want to be married, you realize that loving your partner is way more important that some irritating behavior she or he has. In a sense, your priorities have shifted. Changing him or her is way less important than loving who they are – warts and all.
From this place of acceptance, you shift to appreciation but focusing on what they do or how they are that you feel great about. If you take the time, you might even see that their irritating way may even have value. Just because they vote Republican doesn’t mean they’re beliefs are all bad. I know, I know. If you are a Democrat that could be a stretch.
But seriously, I have come to appreciate my wife more and more every year. I appreciate her wisdom. I appreciate it when she gets exuberant – even if that happens after a drink or two. I have come to appreciate her introverted nature (I’m an extrovert). I have learned the value of her way of seeing the world even when I seriously question it. I appreciate her willingness to work through relationship problems.
Does this mean I appreciate everything about her? No. I’m not perfect. It is a work in progress but I am getting there.
Once you are in touch with what you appreciate in your partner, acknowledging them should be a piece of cake. Not always true. If you have been struggling, as we all do to get to a place of acceptance and appreciation, which can take time, you may not be in practice for giving acknowledgements.
There is no time like the present and it is my experience that it is pretty much impossible to overdo this if you are sincere. Sure, there are some people that have a difficult time with being acknowledged, too bad. They will just have to learn how much you care and appreciate them. If they are resistant, do it until they get it or start crying (which is often the same thing).
Acknowledging my lover is the fun part. Accepting and appreciation, especially accepting, was a lot of work for me. Acknowledging is the payoff. Watching my wife smile when I give her a compliment, seeing her stand tall when I acknowledge something that means a lot to her, or breaking into laughter with her when I acknowledge something that seems silly, all these moments build trust, create intimacy, and enhance our relationship.
These 3As, acceptance, appreciation, and acknowledgement are not esoteric ideas. They are practical concepts with real world applications. The questions to ask yourself are: Do I accept my wife, do I appreciate her, and do I acknowledge her? I don’t know about you, but I have work to do on all three.
Also by Steven Lake
|What if Your Wife is Not In Love With You. And Doesn’t Want to Be||Seven Ways to Make Your Partner Feel Appreciated||Seven Reasons Why Fighting Is Good For Your Relationship||Ten Intimacy Breaking Behaviors That Will Make Your Life Hell|