Do you think that you would be happier if your partner would just change a few, little things about themselves? Like if they put in a bit more effort. Or if they listened to you better. Or if they stopped wearing those stupid looking socks.
Or maybe you would feel happier if you were just a little bit farther along in your business, or fitness level, or your creative life?
If you said “yes” to either, then red flags and alarm bells are probably being set off left and right.
When you set up the idea in your mind that happiness lies in some ideal imagined alternative future scenario, you’re simultaneously ensuring that you’ll never actually experience it in love or life. Peace and contentment become just out of reach, like a carrot hanging in front of a horse’s mouth.
Experiencing all of that here and now, in the present moment, takes a lot of practice. But it’s a way better option than the alternative (which is never experiencing it).
People fight so hard to change their partners, instead of accepting them completely as they are. In the same way, they wrestle with themselves, wishing they were more, better, or different, instead of coming to terms with the truth of who and where they really are in their lives.
We defer our happiness to some imagined future point when everything will be perfectly in place, when it looks exactly the way we think we want it to look, and we can finally relax.
But happiness is not an end, it is a symptom of the means. It comes from how we take each step on the journey and how we feel about our present-day coordinates, rather than the moment of arriving there.
The antidote to this future-minded, anxious state of being, is radical acceptance.
Here are a handful of benefits of radical acceptance:
– Greater sense of ease and flow in all aspects of life
– Greater levels of fulfillment and contentment
– Less anxiety and worry about the future
– Less pressure and stress to work/perform
– Deeper levels of intimacy with yourself and others
Radical acceptance means totally and completely embracing a situation for what it is, or a person for who they currently are.
It means being free of internal friction and resistance toward something that is entirely out of your control.
It means truly making peace with your circumstances, rather than wishing some aspect were different so as to better suit your comfort and preferences.
It is maintaining equanimity in the face of the good, the bad, and the ugly of life and all of it’s details.
In the context of your intimate relationship, it means less fights, petty arguments, and passive aggression, and more harmony, laughter, compassion, safety, and affection.
Our culture doesn’t promote radical acceptance. It teaches us that we can 3D print solutions to all our problems or have them shipped same day through Amazon Prime. It is about convenience, luxury, and complete customization of every little detail to suit your unique taste. The customer is always right. Bend the world to your will. Don’t like it? Ask for a refund. Forget taking responsibility for your decisions.
Modern society thrives off of our insatiable hunger for pleasure and upgrades. If every human being cultivated an enduring sense of contentment with who and where they were, the global economy would collapse. There would be virtually no need for shopping malls, beauty products, junk food, expensive homes, or designer anything.
Instead, it has convinced us that we should strive for a frictionless existence, where smartphone apps and artificial intelligence will expedite and simplify every menial aspect of our lives, and any minor inconveniences will become a thing of the past.
These attitudes and expectations for comfort and ease end up poisoning our relationships. Because people are not customizable, nor are they perfect (whatever perfect means). There will inevitably be some traits and exchanges that will annoy or rub us the wrong way. And where there is love there is inevitably pain.
Rather than accepting this, many people constantly exchange one partner for the next, hoping to find one that won’t age, get upset, or challenge them. After all, there are plenty of fish in the sea, right?
Maybe so. Sometimes it is the case that what you need to accept is the fact that your current partner is ultimately not right for you. Sometimes we try to look past deep incompatibilities in order to remain attached to a source of sex and affection. But sometimes there’s a deeper conversation beneath the annoyances and feelings of misalignment with a person that is actually great for us.
The only way to find out is to dive into your individual work.
Here are four traits to cultivate if you want to successfully walk the path of radical acceptance.
How To Cultivate Radical Acceptance In Your Life
Radical acceptance has to begin with oneself. The extent to which we can sincerely accept and love another for/despite their flaws is dependent on how much of that understanding and compassion we can develop for ourselves. See your own humanity. It might help you to remember that even Gandhi took a dump every day.
This self-knowledge piece is also crucial in recognizing what an ideal partner looks like for you. You begin to see more easily what works and doesn’t work, as well as what complements your lifestyle and tendencies.
In your relationship, it’s very common to grow increasingly annoyed over time with your partners’ little idiosyncratic behaviours. At the beginning, they’re all the things that draw you to the person (“Wow! What a fascinating creature!”). But as you get closer over time, their catch phrases, repetitive lines and stories – all the little reflexes in their character might start to bug the shit out of you. If you feel this way about your partner, and you aren’t exactly sure why, chances are that you are blind to many of your own potentially irritating behaviours.
Can you be an insensitive jerk? Do you repeat yourself? Are you a little messy, or a little obnoxiously obsessive about cleanliness? Are you a little immature sometimes or do you act out or withhold love in childish ways? Do you get moody, or caught in negative or anxious thought loops? What effect do these ways of being have on those closest to you?
Own your flaws… and then make an active effort to polish them.
2. Penetrating clarity
As one of my old favourite bands, The Postal Service, once sung, “everything looks perfect from far away.”
Whether it’s a job or a date, we often tend to glamourize things from afar. This can tend to be because of the “grass is greener” phenomenon. The situation we currently find ourselves in has become normalized, maybe even stale. So surely the answer to shifting that stale inner state will be to shift the outer circumstances.
So whatever unknown opportunity we see, whether it’s the stranger across the room, or the job listing in the classifieds, we project onto it this holy, redeeming light of infinite possibility (“THAT’S what will finally make me happy!”). You fill in all the blanks with your hopeful imagination and paint a shiny picture of what they might be like.
Instead of getting lost in fantasy, remember that everyone and every situation has rough edges. That beautiful stranger might be utterly bat shit crazy, or simply very incompatible with your core needs. That new job might have a coworker that could become the bane of your existence.
I’m not saying any of this to discourage you from taking risks, making changes, or stepping forward in your life (on some level, that’s the only thing I wish for you). What I’m doing is advocating for you to not kid yourself. No matter what direction you go in, no matter what steps you take, there will be difficult times. And if there weren’t, you wouldn’t grow.
Your vision of your ideal relationship, career, or artistic creation might feel perfect and easy in your head. But it will always change when you move to bring it to life in the real world. All you can do is let the vision pull you through, step by step.
Become friends with your patterns. Know them intimately. Get to know your mind’s particular favourite brand of bullshit… then pierce through it as often as possible.
Radically accept the discomfort, suffering, sadness, inconvenience and hardship in life.
As a line from the movie Vanilla Sky goes, “Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.”
Everyone has a vast network of life experience behind them that has contributed to who they are today. We all develop traits and reflexes in childhood to adapt to or protect ourselves from certain situations.
If your partner can be a little controlling, aloof or volatile, see if you can understand why they developed some of these traits in their earlier years. Rather than seeing yourself as a victim and them as an enemy doing things to you, you can begin to see the innocent child in everyone that is simply doing their best to get by (you can literally picture them as a sweet, loving five year old if this helps you to feel more softness towards them).
Get curious about how you developed some of your own defence and coping mechanisms. Did you have an overbearing and intense parent that you felt like you had to shut down around to numb your anxiety and avoid making a mistake? Did you feel constant pressure to be perfect, or to over-achieve, and out-perform? Were you bullied in high school and still carry a vague sense of being unwanted, insufficient, and outcast?
Everybody has a story that could break your heart.
4. Radical honesty
The more total of a person you can be around someone, the more totally you can be with them. Get used to reporting your mind. Say what’s bothering you and why. Get curious about your reactions and why you sometimes feel so activated about the most innocent of exchanges (because, really, are you fighting about them leaving the bread out again or are you actually upset about something else?).
So much relationship tension is born from people holding secret judgements and grudges toward the other. If I’m sincerely allowing myself to be bothered by simple, innocent interactions and holding un-communicated grudges, there is this friction within myself that will cause me to snap at my partner, or “turtle” and withdraw, if you’re more introverted, and it’s essentially a wedge that you’re driving between the two of you. Over time you can’t help but drift, and feel a sense of emotional disconnection.
These un-communicated annoyances stack up like bricks in a wall between you and the other person. It creates a repelling force that prevents you from really falling into them, from letting go, from trusting, from totally loving them. Inevitably, it will pull you apart.
Clear those bricks on a regular basis. Once a week, or once a month, set aside an hour of undistracted time to sit down with your partner and clear the air. Voice the little judgements and hurts that you brushed off in busier moments so you could get on with the day, or not interrupt a good time with friends. For the most part, you can’t out-think these moments of hurt. You have to really sit with them and honour the residual pain that they left in you. The point isn’t to make your partner wrong… it is merely to honour yourself and your emotional reality.
Living and loving with greater ease means gracefully accepting what is and releasing the friction that we put onto situations based on our immature attitudes and unrealistic or unreasonable expectations.
It’s not about getting rid of the desire to strive to evolve and improve. It’s about finding gratitude and love for where you are, who you are, and who is around you, at every step of the journey.
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. If you enjoyed this article, you will likely also love reading the book Radical Acceptance: The Secret To Happy, Lasting Love by Andrea Miller. I found there to be a lot of useful nuggets of wisdom contained in the pages of this book.