Accepting Your Spouse and Living with Differences - Anthony's Library and Resources

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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Accepting Your Spouse and Living with Differences

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

A great deal of discord arises when one partner sets out trying to change the other, for it is basic to our happiness to feel respected, liked and accepted as we are. We feel uncomfortable when under pressure to change our habits, personality, or preferences. At home especially, it is imperative that we learn to accept differences, tolerate idiosyncrasies, and respect individuality.

To accept your spouse means that you view your spouse as a person of worth.  It means that you like him or her as he or she is and can respect his/her right to be different from you.  It means you allow him/her to possess his/her own feelings about matters of importance.  It means that you accept his or her attitudes of the moment, no matter how they may differ from yours.

Although it is very rewarding to accept another person the way they are, truth is, it is not easy to do so.  Acceptance of other does not come easy because of the common resistance to permitting our spouses, our children, our parents, or our friends to feel differently about issues or problems than we do.  This does not mean that one should pretend that his/her spouse is perfect.  Acceptance means that you recognize the imperfections but that you are not going to concern yourself with these areas.  Instead, you determine to accept your mate as he or she is – faults and all.

An important prerequisite to accepting others is one’s ability to accept oneself – just as he is.  Self-acceptance enables us to become more aware of others’ needs and to feel less of an urge to rush in and fix up other people.  We will become more and more content to be ourselves and to let others be themselves.

Factors Affecting Acceptance
Temperament is one of the factors affecting acceptance.  Some people have a great capacity for accepting others.  They are calm and easy-going by nature.  Other people are just not accepting.  They often find the behaviours of others annoying.  They have strong notions about what is “right” or “wrong”.  We feel uneasy around such people because we do not know whether we measure up to their “standards”.

The level of acceptance is also affected by the state of mind.  Few things bother us when we feel good.  If we are tired, overworked, ill or dissatisfied with the day’s achievements, very insignificant thins may bother us.

Acceptance between husband and wife can be difficult if one or the other – or both – do not possess a charitable nature.  But we should realise that we cannot feel accepting toward our mates all the time.  Some behaviours may always remain unacceptable to some, such as drinking, smoking, gambling, laziness, dishonesty or vulgarity. Real people will have feelings of acceptance and un-acceptance toward their spouse during the course of their married life.

Furthermore, acceptance does not always mean “liking”, but we can view the situation without open hostility.  In marriage, there are dozens of human differences with which we must learn to live.  Whether it is a matter of promptness, religious activities, manner of speech, or personal preference of any kind, through prayer and practice couples can learn to raise their tolerance levels and accept basic differences in their spouse.

Forms of Un-acceptance
The commonest form of un-acceptance is nagging and criticisms.  Whether it is open criticism, belittling remarks or subtle suggestions and tiny hints, it all boils down to un-acceptance. Words need not be spoken to convey a message. A disapproving glance or a sigh can convey an un-accepting attitude.

Nagging and Criticism Increase Problems
Your spouse may become depressed or defensive.  He or she may begin to punish you in some ways.  A husband may become openly hostile and angry, while the wife may become cool, distant and withdrawn into periods of silence. They may be little sharing.  Husband and wife may live under the same roof, yet seldom speak about anything meaningful.  In more serious cases, either spouse may seek acceptance outside the home.  Children may also suffer from the tension created at home as a result of nagging.

    Nagging kills Love
It is difficult for a man to love a nagging woman.  Women, too, feel crushed under a barrage of criticism and fault-finding.  They find little enjoyment in doing the house work, caring for the children or preparing meals for a man who criticises their efforts.

    Nagging Arouses Defences
Being unaccepted as we are, is a basic human need, and we search until we find it.  Un-acceptance wounds the pride, hurts self-esteem, and arouses sentiment. One’s first defence may be a verbal counter-attack, or it might come through being stingy, stubborn, lazy, uncooperative, unloving, silent, withdrawn, or through other acts of hostility. 

    Nagging Does Not Work
A woman confessed of listing all her husband’s faults on the back of calendar pages. She admitted driving both her husband and her son from the home by her constant attacks.  Neither of them changed. Considering the problem created through attempts to change a spouse’s behaviour – the tension, the lack of communication, and the effect on the children – is it worth it?  Is changing your spouse to suit your ideas more important than a happy home, a loving partner, and emotionally secure children?

How to Point Out Mistakes to Your Spouse (if you must)
No husband or wife should sit idly by while a spouse offends others through actions, words, dress or body odour.  There are times when mistakes should be pointed out, and you may be the only person who cares enough to do this.  When this is done properly, your spouse should not resent it. Learn how far you can go with your spouse, where sensitive areas are, and where the difference lies between inciting anger and talking things out.

You may have a legitimate complaint, but your timing may be off. You may wish to wait until the incident has passed, because both parties may be too close to a situation to view it with clarity.  By allowing the emotions of the moment to cool, you will gain perspective and wisdom.

Guard your manner and tone of voice.  Do not speak to your spouse as a parent punishing a small child for naughty behaviour.  Speak as an equal.  Your relationship with one another is more important than any relationship you hold with anyone else in the world. The fact is that others are usually more accepting of our spouse’s idiosyncrasies than we are.  After all, they do not have to live with the fault, and this knowledge should free us from part of our drive to reform our spouse.

Husband and wife should always feel free to discuss whatever disturbs them, but it should not be in the form of direct attack. The surest way to weaken affection is to tell someone what is wrong with him or her too often.  Nothing destroys love more quickly than a running account of faults. In order to feel loved, we must feel understood, not criticised or condemned.

How to Change Your Spouse (if you really want to)
Perhaps you are convinced that you should pursue the route of acceptance having read the above paragraphs.  You are ashamed of past attitudes and actions, but you wonder whether your spouse will make any effort to improve if you practise total acceptance.  The thought of facing the future in which he makes no efforts to improve is almost too much for you.

Dr Murray Bowen, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C., and a pioneer in the science of family research, is quoted as saying “The family is a system.  Change in one part of the system is always followed by compensatory change in the other parts.”  According to him, a problem never belongs to just one person. If a husband is a compulsive worker, perhaps something in his wife invites him to work overtime.  If a wife is a lavish spender, may be something in her husband encourages this extravagance.

The following three statements would help us understand the above statement better.
1)    We can change no one by direct action.
2)    We can change only ourselves.
3)   When we change ourselves, others tend to change in         response to us.

Must You Accept Everything?
It is important to stress here that you do not have to accept everything.  You don’t have to become a doormat at the altar of acceptance.  Accepting everything would mean denying the fact that you a different individual, a person to be respected in your own right, a human being with a will of your own. For example, you need not accept infidelity in your marriage and sexual immoralities.

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