Year Two, Skill #37 (for real): Accept Each Other

Amy and I decided to offer another Relationship Series in the month of February. For many of us, relationships (of any type) are often a center point of our lives. And yet, many of us bumble our way through them until we find there are ways to think about how we might do better. Our hope, as always, is that this series gives you some points upon which to reflect in your own life.

This marital story is so common: one partner complains that the other refuses to participate in something that they enjoy. The refusing partner says, “You know I hate ____. I have NEVER liked ____. You knew that when you married me!” The requesting partner invariably feels rejected and hurt. Or the reverse may be true. One partner engages in an activity that the other has no interest in. The uninterested partner says, “I don’t understand why you spend so much time doing ____. You’re gone too much. Don’t you want to be here at home with me?” The interested partner responds perplexed, “But you know I’ve always participated in ____. It was part of what I did that you were attracted to when we were dating.”

Why does he have to go (hunting/golfing/to play poker/out drinking with his friends) EVERY week?

Why does she (take yoga/dance classes/go shopping with her mom/play tennis) SO much?

Why doesn’t he shave? Why does she live in yoga pants?

Why won’t he rent a tux and go to this gala with me? Why won’t she go camping and fishing with me?

Why do you work all the time?  Why don’t you ever DO anything?

WHO ARE YOU?   NOISE!Noise!noise!bearcouple-2

If you see yourself in this, it’s not surprising. It’s part of the language of navigating closeness and distance, connection and autonomy, in long term, committed relationships. We’ve all been there on some level. So how do we end up in this place? And more importantly, what do we do about it?

How it happens:

It is a slippery slope toward a fall when you are not genuine in the formative stages of a relationship.

lovemeDating. Part of the dilemma is that we make sacrifices and go the extra mile when we’re dating. We only show our date the very best of us. We try to avoid being disagreeable. We’re enthusiastic about seeing the person even if the activity is not especially to our liking. We don’t take for granted the time spent together because we may worry about the next time. Will I see him/her again? When? What if s/he chooses someone else with whom they have more in common? Maybe I should give up what I want to do to guarantee I see this person again.  After all, “out of sight, out of mind”, right?  Because of the online dating platforms, we further worry about the idea there’s a better date as available as the click of an app.

It is a slippery slope toward a fall when you are not genuine in the formative stages of a relationship.

After the Honeymoon. Expectations tend to change after the wedding (or moving in together) for a lot of people. I’ve even heard some folks say, “Well, when we’re married, THAT is going to stop!” It makes me want to ask, “Oh really? Do you know WHO your partner is? Have you had any conversations about expectations?” The answer, more than likely, is “NO.” We are so afraid of losing our partner that we put ourselves more at risk by setting up a situation that will invariably come crashing down with the first dose of reality. See, we can only fake for so long. We are actually drawn back to our true selves over time. A statistician would call this “gravitation toward the mean”; in other words, when we engage in behaviors that are too far afoot, we will eventually slip back to old behaviors.

We are actually drawn back to our true selves over time.

arguingbirdsAround the Seven-Year Itch and Beyond. Reality has set in. From a psychological perspective, we begin to see our partner for who they really are, rather than who we WANTED them to be. And if we were not honest about our true selves early on, it’s a two-way street and we may not feel accepted or loved.

What do we do?

Igraffitti-meyoun dating, we must be willing to be honest. And real. And say, “No.” And not abandon our own interests. It’s scary. It feels risky. But it is the only way to be truly known and that is real intimacy. To be disingenuous at this early stage is to avoid yourself and to thwart the intimacy that we work so hard to secure. It’s a paradox to abandon yourself by attempting to be someone you’re not and then expect someone else to love you as you are. It just won’t ever work.

Prior to and after the honeymoon, we must not immediately settle into complacency and automatically adopt the roles we saw growing up. It’s important to have the very real and sometimes difficult discussions around expectations and what it means to be married. What changes when we get married? How do you think things will be the same? How will our roles look when we’re both tired? What does the role “wife” mean to you? How do you picture what is means to be a “husband”? How do we see time together? How about time apart? How do we handle differing interests? What will these things look like if/when a child is added?  This stage continues to be a time of discovery—both of your partner and yourself. To think you know everything there is to know about your partner is a grave mistake.

sunmoonWhen reality sets in and beyond, there is potential for great growth. It takes two open partners willing to navigate rough waters to discover a new land of love. There is potential to have a relationship that is deeper and more rich than just the superficial game of making oneself appealing. The great question is, “Can I accept my partner as who they really are? And importantly, can I accept the choices I made?” If we don’t practice accepting each other, the rejection of each partner’s true self, distance, and hurt between the two will only worsen over time.


So keep your eyes open, be true to yourself, and accept each other with all of your messy, marvelous parts!

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