“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”~Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.
Have you ever noticed how with certain couples love and affection flow so naturally? Indeed, almost effortlessly. There is a good reason for this. These couples have learned to accept one another as they are, which leads to greater intimacy and a more vibrant love flow.
When we don’t accept our loved one for who and how they are—quirks, idiosyncrasies, annoying habits, and all—we are communicating to them that they are not good enough. That they fall short.
Who wants to feel that—particularly in matters of the heart?
Simply put, when you don’t accept your loved one as they are, it dampens the love flow.
Even porcupines know this! With thousands of quills attached to their body, they know that they must pull them in and touch paws, if they want to have a “close” relationship.
If porcupines manage to find ways to “accept” their “loved” ones, quills and all, shouldn’t we be able to as well?
Below are some key practices and mind-sets that will go a long way toward achieving that.
Don’t Try to Change Your Loved One
When you try to change another, you are not accepting them. Yet many of us constantly try to change our loved ones’ traits and habits or opine and advise what they should do differently.
I like neatness and order in our home, but it’s very difficult for my dear, loving wife to get rid of things, and clutter constantly piles up in our garage. In the early years of our marriage, I constantly tried to get her to dispose of unused items in our garage. I complained, pleaded, and even cajoled.
She paid lip service to me for a while and removed some clutter, only to have it reappear days later. When I continued harping, I was quickly met with, “You try taking care of the kids, doing the shopping, doing the laundry… and keeping the garage neat!”
Not exactly a recipe for a loving relationship!
I eventually realized that I was powerless over changing her ways, and that my continually trying to do so impacted our love bond.
As I began accepting my wife for who and how she was—clutter and all—it enhanced the love flow. Our bond is stronger than ever today.
Moreover, my acceptance brought me an unexpected gift. It allowed me to reflect on why (and when) I was so easily disheveled by clutter. I discovered it was almost always tied to my feeling anxious and stressed, usually about work or finances, or not being productive, or some general malaise.
Addressing these “personal truths” brought me peace of mind, and my wife’s clutter no longer bothered me.
Simply put, it was about me, not her!
It will help reduce your urge to control your loved one if you ask:
Do I really have the power to change my loved one?
In most cases, we don’t. The simple truth is that people will change when and if they choose or are able to do so, not because we want them to.
Reduce Your Expectations of Your Loved One
High expectations of our loved ones easily lead to disappointment, resentment, and disconnect.
My friend Margaret shared how her high expectations constantly dampened the romantic flow:
“Expectations have ruined countless intimate relationships I have had. I start out being fun and easygoing, but once the relationship begins to build, I start to expect a certain level of communication, contact, and time together… I almost don’t know I’m doing it. I hear the person say they feel pressure and like everything has to be scheduled, yet I continue. It is horrible and not the way I want to be. I understand I need to let go. I just don’t seem to know how to do it.”
Margaret’s quandary is not uncommon: few expectations at the beginning when the “love stakes” are low, and steadily increasing as the relationship becomes more serious.
One thing is clear, however: When you expect too much of your loved one, you aren’t accepting them.
Underlying many of our expectations are core needs we look for others to fulfill. For example, we may believe if our partner would be more nurturing or spend more time with us—instead of working so much or doing other things—we would be more content and less lonely. Or if she took more interest in our endeavors and passions, they would be more satisfying.
Consider, though, whether we are truly better off if our loved one does as we want or expect. Is our happiness and well-being that dependent on them? I suggest not.
When our focus and reliance is too much on our loved one, we lose sight of the changes and steps we can make to improve the relationship.
It can help reduce your expectations, if you ask yourself this question:
Are my needs something that my loved one can realistically fulfill?
Most often they are something that only we can.
Honor Your Loved One’s Choices
All people, including our loved ones, have their own life path and are entitled to make the choices and decisions that influence and ultimately determine that path.
We can have compassion for our loved ones and sincerely and lovingly want what’s best for them, but we cannot truly know what is best for them.
That’s because we look at things through our own history, prisms, and filters, not theirs. Hence, we should accept their choices, unless we or others are harmed by them. When we don’t, we aren’t accepting them as they are, and risk impeding and jeopardizing their path.
To be sure, this is not always easy. I have learned that I need to be more aware of my controlling inclinations and keep my ego in check or quiet that “I know what’s best” part of me.
I also need to remind myself that others’ points of view and choices have validity—for them.
Acceptance is a Choice
In the final analysis, accepting our loved one for who, what, and how he or she is, is a choice that each of us has to make. We are essentially powerless over changing their ways and traits that we dislike, and trying to do so makes things worse.
We are much better served by focusing on what we do have control over: our part or role in the relationship.
That includes our motives and attitudes, our actions and reactions, and our willingness to own up to our own shortcomings and part in relationship dysfunctions.
And remember, no one is perfect and without flaws, least of all ourselves!
I encourage you to choose acceptance—and improve the love flow!