THE BLOG
03/31/2014 02:23 pm ET Updated May 31, 2014

Accepting the Reality of People

Many of us complain about people, often the same people over and over for doing the same thing over and over. I used to be the queen of complaining about the kinds of things I often hear from others:

• He takes me for granted.
• I hate that I'm always waiting for her. Why can't she be on time?
• I'd never do that to someone. Why doesn't he behave properly?
• My roommate never picks up after herself, no matter how many times I ask her to.
• My wife leaves dirty dishes till morning, even though I tell her how disgusting it is.

I finally learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life. I don't have to like what people do but must accept people as they are, flaws and all, and decide whether to deal with them. In order to affect change you must accept people's rights to be the way they are.

I call it Reality Training: This means recognizing that if you want to be happy, you need to accept people as they are and find ways to deal with how they are, or don't.

It's your choice to tolerate or walk away from bothersome behavior. That's reality! You only have two realistic choices--either stop dealing with the person OR accept him/her as is and change your response to them. Trying to change the person won't make them change. Changing your response can!

Most people won't change because you want them to. That's reality! YOU must change your response instead of trying to change them. When I recognized this I was dating Ben. He drove me crazy by not making plans until the last minute and I kept my time free waiting for his call. I complained a lot about how I turned down invites from friends because I didn't know when I'd see him but it did no good.

I finally recognized that I had to accept his ways, but I didn't have to keep my time free. So I made plans with friends. When Ben called on Thursday about seeing a movie on Friday, I nicely said I had plans. He thought I was joking, then asked if I was mad. Nope! He heard me smiling. I explained that since he did his thing, I'd do mine. Ben got defensive, saying he's not used to advance plans. I sweetly said I'm not used to turning down friends in case my guy called. I accepted his ways. He must accept mine. That leveled the playing field. Slowly Ben made plans earlier. I expressed pleasure. Accepting his right to his way helped ME change and get more of what I wanted.

Adjust your expectations. What seems wrong can be right to someone else. That's reality! If something feels unacceptable, deal with it differently. Being self-righteous over behavior you disagree with creates unnecessary stress. Lectures about good behavior often fall on deaf ears. Once I accepted reality, I told a friend who was always late, "Meet at my place so I can do things while I wait." She did. Another friend rarely kept plans. He got insulted when I wouldn't commit to join him for an event. I explained I couldn't take it seriously since he usually bailed. I accepted his way but he needed to accept that I won't keep time open since things rarely pan out. He swore he'd keep his word, and did. All because I accepted him and changed my response! People respond better to actions than complaints. Here are some examples of common realities:

Reality: Parents often see with different vision because they adhere to older values. It can be frustrating to fight with parents. Since they were brought up differently, they view things through the eyes of their limited mentality. If they don't understand what you're doing, it may seem wrong. That's reality! Work from that reality instead of fighting to make them see your way. Accept they may never get it. Stop trying to make them understand. Arguing doesn't help so why bother? Your parents won't change so you have to change your response to them. Explain that since you love them and want to get along, and you accept they may never understand you. But, you'd appreciate them accepting your right to think and act the way you do. Speak in a loving, not annoyed tone. Ever since I accepted that my mom would never understand certain aspects of my lifestyle, I avoided getting into conversations about them. I just changed the subject and we got along better!

Reality: If you have friends with annoying qualities, either ignore them, respond differently, or stop dealing with them altogether. If Larry is always late yet you still want to get together with him, change your response. It's your choice to continue making plans with someone who'll keep you waiting. That's reality! When you have to meet him, get there after you think he's arrived or say in a friendly way you only intend to wait ten minutes. And leave after that. If Carol repeats all your confidences, don't tell her anything you don't want shared. Accept that she has a big mouth and keep yours shut when you're with her. That's reality! Don't keep getting angry at Carol if she does what you know she will. That's reality!

If Sylvia cancels appointments at the last minute, tell her in the future to phone at a time when she's free and if you're not already busy, you'll see her. That's reality! If Jim once again forgets to return the tools you loaned him two months ago, keep in mind you have no obligation to loan him anything in the future. That's reality!

If you've already told someone how you feel several times and they haven't changed by now, chances are they won't if you tell them one more time. Just do what you have to do. Don't be there for them if their behavior bothers you. They just might wake up when they see you don't criticize them, but don't go along with their way either. That's reality!