Acceptance.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou

Once upon a time, a woman was in couples therapy and she looked at her therapist when her partner was briefly out of the room and said, “But….what if I can’t accept him for who he is right now?” The therapist looked at her and smiled. At least, that’s how she remembers it. It was in that moment that she knew it wasn’t going to work. There were fundamental differences in their value systems and behavioral approaches to life that just didn’t jive.  She could sit around waiting for him to change, but people generally only change when they want to and not because someone else said they should.

These lessons are sometimes learned quickly, and sometimes slowly, after many years of trying to make something fit. Perhaps even, with many people. Not that anything is wrong with this, and from my own personal experience and the experience of working with other people, it’s important not to settle when it comes to a life-long relationship. I think for some people they feel their time is running out and so they better “get a move on” or they feel that they’ve been with someone for so long that it’s the right thing to do, despite doubts, and then a few years down the road they come to regret that decision.

If  I had any words of wisdom to share it would be that it’s never too late to start over again and also be as close to 100% sure as possible that this is the right match for you. A right match is different for everyone, but I’d say it’s a mix of shared values and beliefs combined with the right chemistry. You both don’t have to love downhill skiing, but it’s problematic if you want the dream of a family in a home in the suburbs and your partner wants to live like a wanderer in the world.

In my own experience, I was married once in my late twenties and divorced. I was really disappointed by that outcome at the time, but it was the right outcome for us, and very thankfully we had no children. But what I learned between that marriage and my second marriage, twelve years later, was that I needed to date. I needed to meet people and understand what was right for me in a partnership. I needed to learn to part ways when it wasn’t right – sometimes I did that well, and initially, I probably didn’t. It also took me a while to realize that I could accept a person for who they were, but that didn’t mean I had to have a relationship with them. They were still a good person despite not being the person for me. You can’t expect a lemon tree to give you oranges.

When I first got divorced in late 2005, I was sitting with someone who counseled me at the time and I said, “This feels like it’s going to take so long to meet the right guy.” And she said, “It could take you five years, who knows.” At the time, I think my mouth dropped open and I looked at her and said, “Five years!?! I don’t have that kind of time to wait.” This person advised me not to settle, not to take what was just possibly good enough, but to wait for what was best for me.

It took eight years. But in that eight years, I learned a lot about myself and a lot about other people and it made me the right person for my right person.

 

 

Thoughts.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being.” – Carl Rogers

I was listening to  a recording of the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, give an interview. The interviewer, Krista Tippett of On Being, said to him that it sounds as if he chooses joy as a way of being after he shared with her that he believes optimism to be a philosophy.

Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors intersect and impact each other.  We also have the capacity to change any one of these things, if we so choose to, so that we can affect the other two.

In my meditation tradition we call this correcting one’s intellect.  In the therapy world, we might put it under the umbrella of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but it’s really at the heart of many therapeutic techniques. If I continue on with the meditation example, I can tell you that not only does meditation help us gain a greater acceptance of our thoughts as simply thoughts and allow us to not stick to any one thought so rigidly, but meditation also clears stress from one’s physiology. So perhaps I’ve changed a behavior, but what happens if I haven’t changed my thoughts? Let’s say I’m still pretty grumpy about much of what happens in life and have an overall negative lens on most things. Well, I’m just adding more stress to my physiology, creating more work for the meditation. And so I’d probably say, you’re not really getting anywhere are you?

It’s a little like trying to lose weight. Ideally, what’s needed is healthy food, good exercise, an affirmation and acceptance of oneself in the moment and a belief in one’s ability to make progress.  In my personal experience and observing others, this generally works. People lose the weight. But what about the ones who keep the weight off many years down the road? As we know many people gain the weight back. They are the ones who have fundamentally changed the way they THINK about being healthy and a healthy lifestyle. They do it because they want to increase their health span (how long one lives in a healthy state vs. life span, simply how long one lives) and they know that good health underlies almost everything else in their lives.

So when people say they want to be happy, I think, yes, you can DO many things to bring you happiness, but it is a process and it is a choice every day. Choosing joy is not always easy and it’s not just covering up the hard stuff that’s going on, but it’s re-framing the hard stuff and looking at it from a different point of view.