- Curiosity is more helpful than annoyance when dealing with things outside of our control.
- In relationships, partners may resist the idea of acceptance, but it doesn’t mean things can’t be worked on or improved.
- Sometimes acceptance of challenges can increase maturity and deepen empathy.
A few years ago, I was attending a lecture by a Buddhist monk, who was leading us in meditation. She invited us to be present-focused, and keep a nonjudgmental mind. We were asked to accept thoughts, feelings, and experiences without trying to change them. As I was settling in, a man began shuffling his papers and coughing. I was distracted but meditated on. He then started unwrapping a snack, which echoed in the quiet room. The monk continued with her exercise. I tried to give the loud eater surreptitious glances to convey my disapproval, but then a shift happened. I stopped wishing this man ill feelings and just started noticing. I observed his noise, my reactions, tension, and thoughts containing certain expectations. I became curious instead of frustrated. After a couple of minutes, the disruptor got up and exited, and I was left to reflect. My irritation became a learning experience once I accepted that things were outside of my control.
Partners can benefit from this lesson. Some resist the idea of acceptance, because it feels like giving up or giving in. But it doesn’t mean you ignore problems or don’t try to improve your situation, and this is particularly true with abusive situations. Acceptance just suggests that many things are outside of our control, and getting angry or bitter about it only makes it worse. Sometimes, difficult situations involve suffering. When there isn’t a quick fix, it is an opportunity for patience and growth while continuing to work.
This is hard, because we all hate suffering. No one likes depression, bitterness, or pain. However, suffering can be a journey that couples take together. One time, a couple was talking to me about their adult son who was off the deep end abusing heroin. They had taken him in, but he had stolen from them and his siblings, and he was now homeless and self-destructing. I felt helpless to provide advice, but tried to empathize, and reassured them that if there was an easy answer to this situation, they would have already done it. They seemed dissatisfied and asked if there was anything else they should be doing. I commiserated, recommended some things to read, but reiterated this was a very difficult situation. I tried to be encouraging and present, but I wondered if they got any benefit from coming.
I got an email a few days later. It said: “I cannot express how much better I feel after talking with you. I feel empowered to do what I know must be done. And I feel I can allow myself to be happy, if that makes sense. I have noticed a big difference in my attitude. I also know there will be tough times ahead. But I feel ready to face them.”
I was surprised, to say the least. And I am not suggesting that simply being present and having a good cry will make everything all better. I don’t usually get those emails after tough sessions. But it is true that many things we deal with are just that—things to be dealt with. We aren’t getting ripped off when we suffer. The trick is to engage with trials in a constructive and patient way and not add resentment to the problem by wishing it didn’t exist. Growth happens as we embrace the fullness of life, with all of its uncertainty and challenges.
Adapted from Love Me True: Overcoming the Surprising Ways We Deceive in Relationships. Cedar Fort Publishing.