Acceptance can be a hard subject to think about when it comes to your marriage.
Among couples I’ve counseled, I’ve seen many people who believe that their spouses need to change — and many who are actively trying to change their spouses.
But John Gottman, one of the leading researchers on marriage, says that trying to change your spouse to improve your marriage is essentially a waste of time.
Most things that couples argue over just aren’t fixable, Gottman says. They’re chronic disagreements that stem from being different people.
The alternative we’re left with is becoming more accepting of our spouses.
Now before I go any farther, I want to make clear that I’m not talking about “accepting” destructive behaviors like abuse and addiction. Instead, I’m focusing here on the day-to-day behaviors and pet peeves that often become stumbling blocks in our marriages.
That said, how do you start building acceptance when you’re not feeling very accepting?
- Develop your empathy. Turn the mirror on yourself. What are you like to live with? What’s it like to be on the receiving end of some of your behaviors? This exercise can help you realize that a healthy marriage takes acceptance and accommodation from both of you.
- Consider the whole person. You may be so tightly focused on the traits of your husband that you want to change that you forget that they don’t define him entirely. The things that bother aren’t his only distinguishing qualities. It may help you accept a behavior that annoys you — maybe, for example, he’s absentminded — when you remind yourself of the qualities about him that you love, like the fact that he’s a great father.
- Decide what’s important — and what isn’t. Is the behavior you wish your husband would change really all that vital to your marriage? Some things are worth fighting for in your relationship. Other simply aren’t. In the grand scheme of things, what are you better off letting go of?
- Treat your husband as you would a friend. As women, we often have more patience with our friends’ quirks than we do our husband’s. Can you bring the same tolerance that you show in friendships to your marriage?
- Reduce your own stress. We grow less patient and accepting of others when we’re stressed. And, thanks to our busy lives, we’re stressed much of the time. If you notice that you’re feeling especially impatient or judgmental about something relatively minor your husband is doing, let that be a signal to give yourself some self care and stress relief. For ideas, see the chapter “Calm Down To Invite Connection” in my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
- Be realistic. The reality is that one human being can’t be everything you want him to be and meet all of your needs. And, by the way, you can’t expect yourself to meet all of his needs, either.
The bottom line is that you don’t have to love everything your husband does, but your marriage will benefit when you cultivate acceptance for the things that you don’t love, but just aren’t that big of a deal. Let the following quote by Wes Angelozzi inspire you:
Go and love someone exactly as they are.
And then watch how quickly they transform into
the greatest, truest version of themselves.
When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence,
one is instantly empowered.
PS: While this post talks about acceptance in the context of marriage, you might also find that these ideas are also helpful when you’re around family members who push your buttons during the holiday season.