Fearless You

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Relationship Stress Reduction

Learn the art of acceptance and transcend your relational conflicts

Is your relationship stressful? Are you frequently looking for ways to improve it? Each time you approach your partner, does war ensue? Practicing three types of acceptance can help you to move from conflict to cooperation.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) was founded by Dr. Albert Ellis in 1955. It teaches that how we feel and behave are largely a result of what we think and believe to be true. In addition, REBT offers some broader philosophical tenets which form the basis of mental wellbeing. Applying these tenets to your relationship may be a useful first step to reducing relationship stress.

A foundational principle of REBT is that of Acceptance; the three types emphasized are Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA), Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA) and Unconditional Life Acceptance (ULA). Ellis said that vigorously working on these forms of acceptance will often lead to greater mental wellbeing. When you feel better emotionally and act better as a result, your chances of creating and sustaining fulfilling relationships improve.

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What is acceptance?

Acceptance is the act of acknowledging reality. In this act of acknowledgment, you stop arguing with reality, even if only for a moment. In that moment, you recognize the way things are, whether you like them or not. You simply stop pretending that you can change reality into the fantasy you prefer; instead you receive the truth of what is. In the moment of acceptance, you often gain perspective and clarity.

Is acceptance giving up?

Sometimes people confuse acceptance with resignation, but acceptance does not mean that you are giving up. It simply means that you are viewing yourself, others, or the situation with objectivity prior to taking action toward your desired outcome.

Does accepting others mean that you agree with them or like their behavior?

Some people confuse acceptance with liking or agreement. Just because you accept someone, it doesn’t have to mean you like his or her behavior, or that you agree with him or her.

What is the advantage of practicing acceptance?

Once you accept what is, you feel emotionally freer, enabling you to make useful changes which move you closer to your goals. In contrast, when you fight against what is, you are caught in an emotionally draining battle as you hold onto an image that you demand, pretending that life must subscribe to your fantasy. In this state of struggle, you may lose objectivity and effectiveness.

How can you begin to use these three types of acceptance to improve your relationships?

When you practice Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA), you work to maintain an unwavering sense of self-understanding and attempt to view yourself in a compassionate light. You refrain from judging your “self”, though you may work to improve behaviors that you don’t like. Because of your commitment to stop self-rating (see note below), you are able to take full responsibility for your emotions, recognizing that your beliefs create the majority of your feelings. In addition, if others disapprove of you or if life circumstances are difficult, you continue to talk to yourself in a fashion that does not denegrate you. You don’t rate yourself based upon the reactions of your partner, for example. You also don’t rate yourself based upon whether or not your relationship is going well or poorly. Ellis suggested saying, “It is bad,” rather than saying, “I am bad,” to help you to remember to use USA. USA can help you personally, because you will feel less depressed, guilty, and ashamed; it can help your relationships because you will not be caught in a cycle of depending upon others to feel okay about you, thereby reducing conflicts and creating greater objectivity in your responses.

When you adopt Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA), you acknowledge that, whether or not you like or agree with your partner, your partner is feeling and behaving as he or she does for a reason that has validity to him or her. If you were to step into the world of your partner and believe the same beliefs, you might understand the feelings and actions that result. Practicing acceptance of the other person allows you to ask for new behavior, rather than critiquing the actor. When you hold your partner in the light of acceptance, you stop arguing with what is done. The past is the past. Complaining and blaming won’t change the past, though requesting a different type of behavior in the future could help. Even so, UOA allows you to recognize the decision to change a behavior is ultimately your partner’s. So, when you partner attempts to change a behavior to help the relationship, UOA allows you to appreciate the change. Overall, UOA allows you to begin to work in the present toward a different future.

When you adopt the practice of Unconditional Life Acceptance (ULA), you appreciate that disagreements, hassles, conflict, and stress are natural parts of almost all close relationships. When two people, coming from two different vantage points, converge upon a third point, they are each coming toward that point from unique angles. As a result, they are likely to see things differently. When disagreements take place, you can learn to say, “I don’t like disagreements, and it is okay not to like them, but I accept that they happen.” The ULA stance will free you to work toward mutually agreeable decisions with higher frustration tolerance.

Demandingness gets you less!

Be on the lookout for demandingness in your relationships. Ellis said that demandingness will almost always get you less. Our language often tips us off to the presence of a demand. Words that may signal demands include: should, must, ought to, have to, and need to. These words tend to add a layer of pain to an already painful reaction. Instead strive for greater flexibility in your stance by changing to words that denote preferences, which include: prefer, wish, want, like it if, would be better if, would appreciate it if, and request. Observe how changing your language improves your outcome.

While using these suggestions may serve you, there are times when one or both of you are trapped in a cycle of non-acceptance, unhealthy negative emotion, and unproductive behavior that is too entrenched to handle without professional help. In these cases, accept that there is a time and place for professional help, and take steps to get the best help available.

To read more about the value of acceptance, click on The Power of Inner Guidance. To learn more about techniques for building acceptance, in addition to learning to shift your mood and behavior, click on The REBT Super-Activity Guide

Note:  When you rate people (including you) on dimensions such as winner-loser, good-bad, pretty-ugly, smart-stupid, and others, you fail to see that humans are multifaceted and cannot be captured by a singular dimension. Instead of rating people, work to rate behaviors.

photo credit : Sylvia Wright © 2012

Pamela D. Garcy, Ph.D., serves on the faculty of the Texas School of Professional Psychology at AU-Dallas.

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