The challenge in any relationship
A relationship is an expression of a desire. In regard to my children, I have a desire to see them grow up to be healthy, happy, successful and contributing to the good of others in some way. But I also have a desire to be treated kindly and respectfully by them, to have them behave well in the world so that I “look good”, and to be shown appreciation for everything I do for them.
With a best friend, I desire to see her happy, do well in her job and with her passions. But I also have a desire to be heard, to be given support during difficulties in my life, and to be validated and complimented for my successes.
It is these two sides of every relationship – desiring things for the other person; and desiring things for ourselves – that get us stuck or confused. Almost always, if you are honest with yourself, the problem results from either 1) not knowing how to make our desires heard and supported; or 2) not fully accessing our deepest desire for the other person’s well-being.
Read on to learn how radical acceptance provides a powerful skill for improving any relationship.
Here is one powerful skill for improving a relationship - any relationship. This skill brings your focus back to the two points listed above: doing what you need to make yourself happy; and getting in touch with your own desire to see the other person be happy. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the payoff is truly amazing in terms of your own serenity, compassion, inner peace, and harmony with others:
Radically accept the other person, just as he or she is right now.
Imagine getting up in the morning, heading out to work, and finding that your car has a flat tire. You can respond in two basic ways: denial, or acceptance. Denial sounds like this:
“This can’t be happening! I can’t afford to take the time to fix this flat tire! I have to get to work on time! I shouldn’t have to deal with this right now!”
The other type of response is acceptance. Acceptance sounds like this:
“Wow, a flat tire… ok, I think I’m going to be at least a half hour late to work, let me go back in and call my workplace to let them know. Now, I don’t have a car service plan, and I don’t know how to repair the car, but I do have a spare tire in the trunk. Let me see if a neighbor can help me change the tire, who would still be around this time of day?”
Acceptance starts with reality as it is, and then makes choices about what to do about it.
So, let’s apply this same principle with the people in your life. Just think about the most recent time you had a stressful thought about someone in your life – even if fleeting. It might have sounded like:
“He shouldn’t …”;
“She needs to be more …”;
“I need you not to do … anymore”.
In the same way, let’s say that someone close to you, such as a parent or spouse, smokes cigarettes and that it is clearly (to you) detrimental to their health. Your mind begins with a familiar, yet angering thought, “they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes”.
Notice that this is a direct argument with reality, because the truth is, they do smoke, at this time. Notice first of all, how starting this argument affects you. Do you start to feel angry with them? Scared about them getting sick or dying early? Helpless, since you have perhaps tried repeatedly to get them to stop and they continue?
Now, imagine being with the person, and not having the thought “they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.” That’s practicing radical acceptance of the other person. Taking this approach lets you find a gentle, calm way of addressing their smoking that doesn’t immediately get you into a habitual and tiring fight (which you are both probably familiar with).
In my next blog post, I’ll address some of the common questions that come up when people hear about “radical acceptance”.
If this idea appeals to you, I invite you to reach out for guidance in how to implement this approach with the important relationships in your life. The results can be radically life-altering! You can schedule an appointment with me by calling 215-240-1449 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.