True acceptance is always done in a way that maintains your integrity.
The desire for acceptance—and the lack thereof—is a prevalent theme in relationships.
It can appear in an angry “Just accept it!” It can sound pleading, as in “Why won’t you just accept me the way I am?” There’s also pseudo-acceptance, such as “Fine. I accept I will never get through to you!” And there’s also manipulation disguised as acceptance with a sprinkling of martyrdom: “(Sigh)…I guess I just have to accept that I do all the work in the relationship.”
The concept of acceptance is used and abused, but what is it, really? How do we get it, and how do we give it? If you find that your partner keeps repeating the same thing to you, it could be an indication they don’t feel heard and accepted. If so, this article is for you.
What acceptance is—and is not
Acceptance is often confused with dynamics that have little to do with it. It gets mistaken for giving up, being complacent, forfeiting power, being inauthentic, and a host of other misconceptions. True acceptance is always done in a way that maintains your integrity.
It sometimes helps to think about it in physical terms. Clench your fist for a few seconds and then open it. Notice what you had to do to open: you had to let go. What is received in the openness of letting go is acceptance.
Here are some important ways to convey acceptance to your partner:
Focus on Your Partner
The easiest way to do this is to recognize when your attention returns to yourself. That doesn’t mean you should never consider your own needs or that it’s not okay to have your feelings. But right now, tune into your partner and see what gets in your way. Bookmark what is blocking you so that you can set time aside for personal reflection.
Be Present With What Is
When your partner is in pain, it’s natural to feel bad for them. But when you focus on wishing they didn’t feel bad, you subtly move away from being with what is present for them. If you say, “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “I wish you didn’t feel that way,” you’re someplace other than right with the feelings they want you to accept.
Another indication that you aren’t being present with your partner’s feelings is when your empathic response is immediately followed by a “but.” This might sound something like: “I know you felt offended, but if you could just see it this way you would feel differently.” This feels to your partner like you are emotionally walking away from where they are right now. They don’t need your corrective viewpoint in this moment; they need your pure presence with where they are right now. Let them know you understand how they feel, what that must be like, that you’re there for them, and that you care.
Release Your Agenda
One way to determine whether you have an agenda other than acceptance is if you find yourself trying to move your partner out of their feelings by trying to make them feel better or trying to change their responses. This doesn’t mean that at some point they won’t appreciate your efforts to right a wrong or to improve conditions. But acceptance is the precursor. If they become frustrated when you move into agenda mode, chances are you might have bypassed true acceptance.
If this is the case, take some time to reflect on how acceptance challenges you. What do you feel in your body when you cannot change your partner’s feelings? How do you view yourself? What do you think it says about you? If you can work through what blocks you, truly being with your partner’s feelings is one of the most intimate and caring gifts you can give them. They will experience this as deep connection, understanding, and compassion. No attempt to fix it for them can compare.
Simply resting in the reality of your partner’s situation is like opening a clenched fist. When you open to what is, you pave a pathway to greater attention, awareness of self and other, and connection. To learn how to create the right growing conditions to encourage your partner’s acceptance of you, stay tuned for my next article.
Suzanne understands that pleas for connection, validation, and understanding in intimate relationships often masquerade as complaints. With warmth and compassion, she helps couples uncover the source of their challenges and develop more skillful ways to communicate. Suzanne knows firsthand that crisis can stress a marriage and test partners’ capacity to cope. But if approached with mindfulness, crisis can also be a portal to deeper intimacy and unspeakable beauty.