We all know what it’s like: We fall in love, and with all good intentions, we think we have met “The One”. You know–the one who will meet all your needs, make you happy, and of course think and feel the same way you do! “I’m so lucky to have met you!”, we say. But for most of us, somewhere between 6 months and 3 years into the relationship, things begin to change. We come to realize that we are actually very different: How can they be such a slob? They don’t communicate. They communicate too much. They don’t pay attention to me. They are smothering me with attention… And so it goes.
So what do we do?
We try to get them to change. Yes, I’m talking about you (and me). We all do it. We want our partner to be more like us–and that is the beginning, the source of much of our conflict. And worst of all–we know it doesn’t work! We criticize, complain, attack, argue–perhaps threaten to leave. And all this does is create bad feelings on both sides. They feel hurt, angry, unappreciated, and will most likely react by either getting defensive, attacking back, or withdrawing. And all of this destructiveness is done in the name of getting our partner to do what we believe is “right”. And we all have our own version of what is right. So how can both of you be “right”, and the other be “wrong”? It just doesn’t add up. And, most importantly–it doesn’t serve you or the relationship to go down that path.
You have a choice between being right, or being in a relationship
I think there is great truth in this simple saying. So the first step in laying the ground for lasting love and joy is this: You have to begin by accepting your partner for who they are, and letting go of trying to change them. This does not mean that you have to like, or agree with everything they do. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t express your needs and wants with your partner. (That will come later!)
I often say to couples, “You have to both radically accept your partner for who they are, and be willing to change.” But you have to begin with acceptance.
What do we truly want?
The truth is, we all want to feel accepted. We want to feel like we can relax and be ourselves, and that who we are is valued and appreciated. Isn’t that what you want for yourself? And isn’t that what you would want to give to your partner? So why not begin right now. I would encourage you to do one simple thing over the next week: Keep this “mantra” or intention in your mind: “I accept myself, and I accept you, for who you are.”
Repeat these words to yourself three times, and notice how that feels. Did you find yourself relaxing, and being a bit more calm? By the way, accepting ourselves is often the first step to accepting others. So this is really a practice of “loving-kindness” toward ourselves, and toward our partner.
I want to suggest one more exercise to help you on your way. It will take just a minute. Take a sheet of paper, and list adjectives that would describe what kind of person you would like to be in your relationship. Most people that I have done this with include words like “loving, kind, compassionate”, etc. I have never had anyone say that they want to be angry, critical, or unkind. Use your list as a reminder, and next time you find yourself getting frustrated with your partner, see if you can call on these qualities and put them into action. I have no doubt this will lead you toward behavior that demonstrates your love and acceptance, and that your partner will respond in kind.