It is often said that happiness comes from accepting our relationship. And most might agree that acceptance is necessary in relationships, BUT, the real question is: how do we get to that place of deepened acceptance in our relationship? This is a challenging topic. For some, acceptance may be a process over time while for others it may come a bit easier. Here are my thoughts on this challenging topic!
Start with you:
While it is understandable to immediately focus on the hurt that our partner brings to us, it can be painful and challenging to also recognize the hurt that we cause our partner. One part of the path towards deep acceptance of your relationship is to also accept the challenges that you bring to it. It is hard to accept the challenges that your partner brings to your relationship without self-acceptance of your own challenges. I know, that’s a hard one. Self- acceptance means self-love and self-compassion. It does not mean that you are perfect. It does mean that you accept the challenges that you bring to your relationship and, better yet, continue to work on self-awareness and personal growth. Keep this in mind, as you move in to self-acceptance you then move out of fear, shame and other painful emotions. What a beautiful gift!
ALL of us have emotional triggers:
Understanding our partner’s emotional triggers (with compassion) can help you move towards a deepened acceptance of your partner and your relationship. For example, one might have a strong reaction when feeling criticized (due to extreme criticism in childhood, this become an emotional trigger) and one’s partner might have a fear of abandonment (due to being abandoned by a parent in childhood, this becomes an emotional trigger). No one escapes the experience of pain in their life, no one. You may have had the best parents in the world but even the best parents unintentionally cause pain. And no one escapes pain in other experiences in their life, whether they happen at school, in a relationship, or a traumatic experience. Past hurts are often magnified in our current relationship. Past wounds are triggered when our partner (often unknowingly) bumps into a them.
I’ve written about emotional triggers in a few of my blogs. It is super important to recognize them in yourself and your partner. It is necessary to find the balance between being respectful of each other’s triggers while not taking responsibility for your partner’s triggers. For example, if your partner has an emotional trigger of being criticized you can work on how you present concerns to your partner. You would not say – “You are lazy and don’t do anything around the house”, but instead “I’m overwhelmed with all that I have to do. Can we talk about how we can help each other”? (Side note, just because you present your concern in the best possible way to your partner does not mean that they will enthusiastically respond to you.) But it can be the beginning of a conversation. By not saying anything to your partner because they are triggered by criticism is actually taking responsibility for them. All of us must manage our own triggers, we are responsible for them. As partners, we can only work on not perpetuating the pain of each other’s triggers.
Keep in mind, the better we understand each other’s emotional triggers the more we can work with one another in an accepting and respectful way.
Be cautious with advice from others:
All of us need a support system. It’s invaluable. And yet, the advice that we receive from others often comes from one or both of two places. One, they love you and don’t want to see you hurt. Therefore, advice is often provided from a place of love and yet, it is not always guidance toward acceptance. For example, someone might say to you: “you don’t deserve to put up with that kind of behavior from your partner” and while this may be true, it is not helpful (unless you truly want to leave the relationship) because what you really need is validation of what you are going through AND a path forward. A path forward often means providing understanding to both of you. Receiving support only for you will make it all the more challenging to accept your partner and your relationship.
Secondly, advice often comes from an experience lived by the person giving you advice. Here’s the thing: what you accept in a relationship may not be acceptable to others and that’s okay. Every one of us is uniquely different based on so many things, our temperament, life experiences, upbringing, and so on. Each of us will accept things in our partner and our relationship that others would not accept. And again, that’s okay!
Advice from others can derail you. It can make you question yourself in unhelpful ways and cause doubt. Relationships are challenging and hard work, period. It is easier to move towards acceptance in your relationship if you seek guidance from those who will provide understanding and support to both of you.
Expectations, limitations & forgiveness:
There are not many of us who are fully prepared for the work of committed relationships. We might have dreams, expectations, and excitement for a future together. Rarely do we imagine the amount of forgiveness that we will need to extend. The hard part about forgiveness is that we don’t forget how we’ve been hurt. This is when it is important to accept you and your partner’s limitations. What I mean by this is to recognize (and accept) that your partner (or you) will not be all things that you wish for in a relationship. For example, your partner may be truly regretful for hurting you and yet not know how to verbally express regret to the extent that would better meet your need. Adjusting our expectations and understanding regarding one’s limitations will move you closer to acceptance in your relationship. And of course, it will move you closer to forgiveness.
What acceptance is not:
Acceptance does not mean that you agree with certain behaviors from your partner. The only thing that you can do in regard to a behavior that you do not agree with in your partner is consider how you wish to respond. This is more empowering than it sounds. Learning how you can respond to something that you don’t agree with is something you can control, although it is not meant to be used against your partner. For example, if your partner is making unfair accusations – you can choose to disengage from this interaction with your partner. Let them know that you would like to have a conversation without accusations and that you are ready to do so when they are ready. Or if your partner withdraws from you for whatever reason, this is the time for self-care and self-nurturing, or alone fun time doing things that you enjoy until your partner is ready to reconnect in a way that meets both of your needs.
Acceptance does not mean that you stop working on personal growth. Acceptance does not mean that you conclude “he/she will never change” in a negative frame of mind. I know that might seem like a contradiction of the definition of acceptance but what it means is that you always stay open to possible personal growth in your partner.
Acceptance does not mean that you tolerate abusive treatment such as physical violence or other extreme abusive behaviors. I use the word “extreme” because I have witnessed people use the word “abuse” a bit too easily. Hopefully you know what I mean when I use the word “abuse”.
Acceptance is not about ‘giving up’ or ‘giving in’, it’s about accepting where you are at this moment in your relationship.
What acceptance is:
Acceptance is understanding you and your partner’s challenges, emotional triggers, and fragility. It is accepting that both of you are not perfect and you will get hurt at times. Acceptance is knowing that your partner cannot meet all of your needs. Acceptance is letting go of what you “wish” your partner would be for you. And let me say this, acceptance can ultimately be liberating for both of you. And who knows what acceptance will bring to your relationship. Acceptance is a powerful thing!
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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!
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One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. It’s not easy to do, I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section. And, if you would like me to blog about a specific topic – let me know!
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
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