Acceptance: The Key to a Happy Marriage

Accepting others doesn't come naturally to us. Rather it is something that we learn how to do over time. At the beginning of our relationship with our spouse, we may love everything about him or her. However, that isn't acceptance.
11/13/2015 04:47 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2016
South Africa, Cape Town, Rear view of young couple sitting at beach
South Africa, Cape Town, Rear view of young couple sitting at beach

We seek acceptance from the time we are children through adulthood. As children we mainly seek approval and acceptance from our parents. However, once we become adults, marriage is often our most intimate relationship, and our spouse is the one from whom we seek acceptance.

When I accept my spouse, I am able to say, "I love you just as you are. I don't want to change anything about you as a person. If you have big feet, or a short attention span, that is just fine with me. I wouldn't trade in anything that is part of who you are." When you can say those things, you've accepted your spouse.

That is hard to do. Accepting others doesn't come naturally to us. Rather it is something that we learn how to do over time. At the beginning of our relationship with our spouse, we may love everything about him or her. However, that isn't acceptance. That is wishful thinking. Based on the little that you know about the other person, you are wishing that the rest of the package will be equally perfect.

However, once the haze of new love wears off, we are shocked and think, "Hang on! This person has some flaws. When did they change????" They didn't change. We simply have gotten to know our spouse more fully.

And really, we are the ones who have changed. Over time, what changes is our view of the other person. The behavior that once seemed adventurous, may seem immature after a couple of years. The sassy attitude that you once may have loved about your spouse suddenly strikes you as bitchy two years into the relationship. And your beloved's initially mesmerizing self-confidence now smacks of arrogance. People don't change. They are who they are. It is our view of them which changes.

Once we see our spouse for who they are, flaws and all, then we can learn to accept him or her. The problem is that many of us first need to learn to accept ourselves. If we don't accept ourselves, we may find our spouse's qualities to be threatening. For example, we may worry, "If he is gregarious, is it bad that I am shy?" Or we may ask, "If she loves adventure, and I just like to garden, does that make me boring?" We then may try to change our spouse to be like us, in order to eliminate the threat. Instead, we need to learn to love ourselves and be comfortable in being different from our spouse.

Acceptance also takes maturity. It is the mature person who grasps that just because someone is different, that doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. For instance, just because your spouse has a different opinion than you, that doesn't mean that he or she is wrong. (Note: Facts can be right or wrong. Opinions are just that -- opinions.) My husband and I happen to have very different political views (think James Carville and Mary Matalin). However, our difference of opinion is just that - a difference of opinion -- nothing more. Neither of us expects or even wants the other person to change how they vote or how they think.

And just because your spouse likes different activities than you do, that doesn't mean that person has bad taste. They just enjoy other things. For example, my husband loves to watch professional sports. I like spending time with him, so I'll sit with him during the evenings while he is watching a game. But frankly, while I am looking at the screen, my mind is often somewhere else. Sports just don't interest me. Nevertheless, I don't need him to give up watching sports. We enjoy so many other things together that it makes little difference to me if he enjoys some things that I don't.

Once we completely accept our beautifully flawed human spouse for who they are, marriage becomes so much easier. We don't have to agree on every last thing because it is OK to have different opinions. We don't have to feel insecure if we don't possess the same qualities as our spouse. And we don't have to enjoy all the same activities because we're different people!

Acceptance in marriage, however, must be mutual. If both spouses don't accept each other, they are going to be in a constant struggle. If your spouse has accepted you, but you haven't learned to accept your spouse, think long and hard about the effect of your attitude on your spouse. It is draining to be around someone who is constantly dissatisfied with you. And it is irritating to have someone try to change who you fundamentally are. Instead of trying to change your spouse, consider growing up and changing yourself.

We all want to be not only loved, but accepted for who we are. If you haven't fully accepted your spouse, start working toward that. It will be to the benefit of both you and your marriage.