I've have the pleasure of knowing many people who have many successful, happy relationships in their lives. Whether it's a long and happy marriage, friendships that have endured time and tribulation, or family bonds that go beyond blood, there's one common theme in these relationships: Acceptance.
It sounds so simple, but a person's willingness to accept another is the key to an enduring relationship.
My brother-in- law often jokes about how he is surprised my sister puts up with him after 30 some years of marriage. A wonderful and self-deprecating kind of guy, he'll easily list his faults, and follows with word of gratitude that she accepts him with all those faults. And my sister is quick to point out the things she does that drive him crazy.
Acceptance doesn't mean you can't be frustrated by things that bother you. It doesn't mean you like every personality trait your partner has; it simply means you weigh the good verses the bad, and if the good rules, and you accept the irksome traits for what they are. You realize that while they aren't perfect, neither are you. There is an agreement, spoken or unspoken, that you love more than you don't love about them, and the things you don't love you will live with. And, in turn, they will do the same.
When one is unwilling to offer total acceptance, the relationship is in trouble, and often fails.
To search for "the one" who will fill every single need you have is an unrealistic expectation. How unfair it is for us to expect one person to fill our every need when we ourselves cannot fulfill our own needs or 100 percent of another's, no matter how much we long too, or how hard we try.
No one fits like a glove. The people I know with lasting relationships have a variety of people in their lives that fulfill a variety of needs. A woman may love to shop, and her husband doesn't, so she shops with a friend. A man may love to golf, but his wife doesn't so he plays golf with buddies. A couple certainly needs to have common interests that bond them, and shared activities are crucial…but it is also healthy to have friends and interests apart from one another.
We can't change another person's personality attributes or their behavior. We can only change our attitude and our response toward them. In a long term friendship or life partner relationship, we can choose to accept those things about that person that bother us…and hope they can do the same when it comes to our faults. Or we can decide those things are beyond our ability to tolerate and walk away.
I don't think we can choose who we fall in love with. We just fall in love. But staying in love is a decision. It takes work. And acceptance is also a decision, and it too, takes work.
Note: this article was originally written in November of 2007