Healthy Relationships, Part 6 :
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Relationships require lots of acceptance...all relationships, family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, an so on. Applying the Serenity Prayer:
"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."
by Reinhold Niebuhr,
can be helpful in deciding what you are willing to accept and what you are able to change. The key here is the wisdom to know the difference. Many of us beat our heads against various walls trying to change things we cannot, things that don't really matter, are none of our business, or cannot be changed anyhow. We get lost in trying to control other people and forget what is important. Even if we are usually independent thinkers and not reactors, we sometimes become victims of our past, our pathology, and old, unresolved issues and feelings.
Ever notice yourself complaining about your family, friends or coworkers? Complaining either silently in your own head or aloud, perhaps to other family members or friends? When we are focused on something relatively unimportant in the scheme of things, something that does not really affect us and is REALLY none of our business, is it because we find some aspect of ourselves to be less than what we want? Always easier to focus outside of ourselves, deeming someone else's behavior unacceptable, we can use criticism of another to avoid looking inward. Conversely, if we look at our own behavior, we may have to consider change...aghhh! The C word, not that!...CHANGE yourself, or change your mind. Oh, no, you might have to take responsibility for yourself!
So, back to the current topic, acceptance. Of all of the things we human beings want from others, acceptance is pretty high on the list. When we feel accepted, we relax, feel happy, satisfied and have more energy to be the best person we can be. We can stop performing, stop the anxiety of "am I good enough?" Can you give the gift of acceptance to family, friends and others? To yourself? Self acceptance and acceptance of others go hand in hand...practice one and the other will come more easily.
Try on some examples:
Could you request acceptance, even support, for a new activity you want to pursue? Do you want to return to school, take up bike racing, or just take a quilting class? Fearful of complaints and criticism from family and friends?
Do you have enough self acceptance to try something new? To not worry about how you look or act (within reason, folks) or what others think? To require others to treat you with respect and kindness? (See Healthy Relationships, Part 5: Kindness).
Could you find it acceptable and be supportive of your spouse taking time off from work and family to: hunt, fish, ski, hike or participate in some other activity? And be welcoming when he returns, declining to complain about what he hasn't done around the house because he was gone?
On a more serious note, could you accept your spouse's decision to loose weight, stop smoking or stop drinking? Could you demonstrate your acceptance by supporting him or her and keeping your own similar habits out of his face for a while? Could you accept his desire to live in a home free from ice cream, fatty foods, cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol?
What about you, if you are the one deciding to change, to break habits (addictions?)? Is it acceptable to live with someone who is not supportive of your decision to break an addiction or simply to get healthier? What if you just had a major heart attack and had to loose weight and stop smoking if you were to have a chance to live another few years? Would that change what is acceptable in terms of family support?
And yet, it is inappropriate to accept the unacceptable. Abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional is never acceptable. Healthy people have clear boundaries and zero tolerance for the intolerable...more on boundaries and the unacceptable in an upcoming article.
For now, look for the acceptable in yourself and others and add this to your healthy relationship practices of kindness, respect, commitment and communication. Oh, there is absolutely nothing to be lost by trying the above Serenity Prayer as well.
Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver firstname.lastname@example.org.