Being the best partner — 29 October 2003
Accepting the whole package

The deepest level of love is anchored in acceptance of our partners.
That entails recognizing our loved ones positive and difficult qualities
as parts of their whole precious personalities. Acceptance of our
partners as they are may seem obvious and easy in a loving connection.
Regrettably it is neither.

We often begin a new relationship with excitement, awe, and unrealistic
adulation, seeing only those desirable traits that appeal to us. We are

drawn to people who exhibit traits that are less developed in us. We
believe then that we are fully accepting of our partners- and we do- to
the extent of our temporarily myopic view.

In the second phase of couple’s interaction, reality sets and we are
suddenly awakened from our euphoric adulation to the awareness of our
partners_ less desirable traits. Now, our needs may not be fully met and
frustrations begin. This is the stage of the “power struggle”, when
couples compete for their individual need fulfillment. At this stage,
the full acceptance of our mates becomes elusive.

The need to change the other person to best suit our requirements
interferes with our capacity to be accepting. The stance is “I love you,
but I can’t stand this quality of yours.” This is a non sequitur. To
love means to understand that every quality, behavior, and tendency is
part of a wisely organized personality type. The repeated behavioral
patterns all make perfect sense and have served your mate well in his or
her life to date.

It is not implied that some idiosyncrasies of your mate may not be
annoying, or that some behavior may not need to change, but the
non-judgmental view of their existence needs to hold.
Research indicates that self-acceptance; also termed as- a high level of
self _esteem, is essential in our capacity to accept other people.

Understanding the matrix of basic beliefs, emotions and conduct of your
partner is most valuable. Acceptance comes through compassion, which
grows out of empathy and understanding of another individual’s experience.

For example, if your partner’s super-busy style and emotional
unavailability have annoyed you, you may learn that she gains value by
pleasing others through accomplishing tasks. Calling her “cold, uncaring
or a workaholic,” reduces her self-esteem and only exacerbates the task
preoccupation. Inviting her to sit and connect with you- as a task -may
fulfill both of your needs.

Some of your mate’s judged behaviors, may become endearing traits _once
understood. ” I could never understand why he responds so aggressively
to others, it doesn’t make sense to be so confronting all the time,”
says one partner. Once she understood that he sees people as either
“winners” or ” losers”, his need for dominance to gain safety becomes
clear. The new information may lead to compassion rather than criticism.
Softening of his approach may then be a goal, which this couple can
explore _lovingly.

From childhood, compliance to the norm, both in the family and in
school is strongly enforced. People who vary from the norm in
appearance, habits, talents and inclinations are often assigned
derogatory labels. The active, curious child may be hard to handle and
is called a “difficult, challenging or a trouble maker.” Labels are the
antithesis of acceptance.

In relationships we assign adjectives to our partner’s traits. These
descriptions however may be altered later to connote less desirable
attributes. “He is so strong, independent, solid, hardworking, and
serious,” at the start of a relationship, may later be seen as: “He is
aloof, self-centered, cold, unavailable, and humorless.” The same traits
that attracted us initially are renamed and scorned.

Even qualities such as honesty, sensitivity and helpfulness may end up
being resented when their use is toward others and not solely toward the
mate.

It is important to remember that your spouse’s basic nature hasn’t
changed, your view of him may have. The helpful fellow who assists all
his friends and neighbors, was once adulated for pleasing you. Remembering to appreciate your lover’s beautiful attributes, though on
occasion they benefit other people needs before yours, reinforces his
self-worth and enhances your acceptance. Or would you rather be paired
with a non-helpful being? His kindness is one piece of his personality
and fits well with the total picture that is him.

When couples reach the third phase of their relationship, which is the
“intimate relating” phase, they have talked, learned about each other
and practiced the critical-free curiosity and empathy in their relationship.
Acceptance requires the following:

  • Your partner is likely to be different than you- often representing
    the parts of you- you wish to strengthen.
  • Each person develops a behavioral set, based on a belief system that
    has helped him or her function well to this point.
  •  Your partner’s personality style is a whole picture- all its parts fit
    well and are needed.
  • Understanding leads to acceptance. Learn as much as you can about
    yourself and your mate.
  • Maintain the positive descriptive adjectives of your partner for your
    greater comfort and love.
  • Be positive about yourself- the more accepting you are of yourself
    -the greater is your capacity to appreciate others.

Love thrives through understanding, empathy and true acceptance

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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