Acceptance In Relationships


This series of blog posts focuses on some of my reflections on the nine foundational attitudes of mindfulness and how they relate to interpersonal relationships. This week is an exploration of acceptance.

Accepting difference

Acceptance is a huge topic and one that is often misunderstood, particularly within relationships. Within relationships there are certain behaviours that are simply unacceptable, and we will all differ as to what is acceptable for us at any given time. In the serenity prayer we ask for the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change and within relationships that is often quite a lot. We cannot change another person, however tempting it might be to try. Before embarking on a new romantic relationship, we might have an idea about things that might be ‘deal-breakers’, aspects of a prospective partner that we simply couldn’t tolerate. We might feel that we couldn’t have a relationship with a snorer or a smoker, or that we would struggle to have a relationship with somebody who didn’t share our political views or our taste in furnishings. However, this attitude can lead to us missing out on the potential for a real connection. Ultimately how important is it to be with someone who ticks all the boxes on paper? Acceptance in relationships may mean learning to compromise on the small things and communicate on the big things.

Accepting ourselves

Acceptance in relationships means learning to accept ourselves as we are and then showing our true selves to our partners. How can we expect others to accept us if we cannot accept ourselves? I am not always going to be in a happy, fun-loving mood. I am not always going to be full of energy and positivity. And that is absolutely fine. I can allow myself to be just as I am, whilst trying not to take it out on my partner when I am having a difficult time. Intimacy isn’t about being on our best behaviour but is about being real with each other.

Accepting habits of others

Acceptance is also important within friendships. I recently spent a weekend staying at a friend’s house. I am generally an early riser and my friend is not. This is something that I often find difficult. So I was left with a choice; I could become irritated with my friend for sleeping in until noon rather than spending the morning with me, or I could accept our different sleeping patterns and just bring a book. On this occasion, I noticed my irritation, I allowed it to be there without feeding it. I then read my book. When he finally got up, we had a lovely afternoon together. Suffering arises in the gap between what we want and what we get. By letting go of the expectation that I would ever get to share a morning with my friend, I was able to accept the experience just as it was and go with it, allowing the weekend to unfold organically. We all probably have friends who have habits that we find difficult – maybe they are chronically late for everything – or chronically early. We can get irritated by this or we can simply accept that this is the way this person is and find a way to accommodate.

Accepting reality

Mindful acceptance is not putting up with stuff, it is about accepting the reality of the present moment without judgement. It is accepting what is happening without blocking, pushing away, burying our head in the sand or ignoring the stuff that makes us uncomfortable.  By fully accepting the totality of our experience in any given moment, we are more able to see the bigger picture. The space to see the bigger picture gives us the time to make wiser choices.

The next post of the series will look at non-striving.