During a three-hour car ride, Mark (fiancé) told me he accepts me for who I am. He doesn’t ever try to change me. I agree with both statements. I always feel loved by him.
He also said he feels I don’t always accept him. I sometimes want him to fit into a specific mold.
Those statements surprised and upset me because I thought I’d been very loving and accepting. He’s the easiest person to love. I admit, in the past, I’ve focused on changes I’d like to make to a couple of long-term partners, but with Mark it has been different. I’ve felt safe and at ease inside and out. I haven’t felt a desire for him or us to change.
Clearly, I did not convey these feelings enough to make him feel the same safety and acceptance I do.
What is acceptance?
Dr. John Demartini defines acceptance in his book, The Values Factor. He says acceptance is not tolerance. It is open-hearted appreciation for who we are.
I have the deepest appreciation for Mark’s kind, fun and loving nature. As I went over our discussion in my head the following thoughts came to me: Perhaps my external life (children, family, home) makes him feel like he has to behave a certain way?
Or maybe, it is all on me. My words and actions feel like judging? It is possible I do not show acceptance for all of Mark; meaning I easily demonstrate love for his strengths but I do not show appreciation and love as well during his less strong moments.
Perhaps he feels like he’s being evaluated.
Evaluation feels unsafe
Comparing and evaluation make us feel unsafe, defensive and inadequate. In The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory, Dr. Stephen Porges, states even therapy sessions point out deficiencies in patients with the hope of promoting pro-social behavior. The feeling of being evaluated, automatically puts us on the defensive.
Unfortunately, society often implicitly puts expectations on us, which have us evaluating our performances constantly. It is hard to grow or make changes when we are on high-alert.
Being evaluated by someone we love and feeling like we fall short, magnifies our insecurities ten-fold. The person we love is supposed to protect and accept us.
Control feels safe
I have a hard time simply letting things unfold. I want to have a bit of control over situations and gulp* people. It feels safer. I’ve been steamrolled and overlooked in the past so I speak up louder and more often now.
There is a need for perfection that also plays a part. If I do everything right or if my partner is perfect, then I can relax. Then no emotional or physical harm will come to us. As if, I could control all of that…
Upon reflection, I realized when I do voice my expectations or try to live up to them, it is mostly out of fear. I don’t want to be steamrolled, overlooked or loved conditionally again. There is no connection with others when we feel like that. It’s lonely. I never want to feel like I am alone again.
I have to learn to trust my partner has good intentions. I have to accept neither he nor I are perfect, and that’s OK.
Control does not feel safe to the other person. It feels like non-acceptance.
Accept both sides of the coin
In The Values Factor, Dr. Demartini says every relationship offers support and challenge. We have to incorporate our highest values and those of the other person. We each have our own highest values. They will never align 100%. The misaligned parts cause the challenge and the growth. If we can accept the support and challenges of a relationship, we have a shot at contentedness.
Can we see things as they are instead of pushing unrealistic expectations? Every relationship and situation includes pleasure and pain.
We could stay single and keep looking for the perfect person (offers only support) that does not exist or have a relationship that supports, challenges and fosters growth. We have to embrace both positive and negative traits to have a secure relationship.
With Mark, I am the closest to this kind of unconditional acceptance that I have ever been. I value him for who he is, not just what he does. I need to express that better to him.
I am not perfect, obviously, but his acceptance and the safety that conveys, make it easier to roll with challenges that arise. I will continue to work to help him feel the same way.
“The moment you love somebody just as they are, they turn into the person whom you love.”
— Dr. John Demartini
How good are you at accepting what is? Does your partner feel you accept them? How can you make someone feel safer?
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