Do you struggle with accepting things your spouse does? Maybe they look at pornography or they’ve left the church. Or maybe they just don’t behave the way you think they should. In today’s podcast, we discuss how learning to accept your spouse and loving them for who they are actually feels so much better and sets you free.
Today I wanted to talk about accepting and loving your spouse for who they are and what they do. This is one of the topics that I get a lot of pushback on from my clients and so I thought I’d address it here on the podcast.
I have a lot of clients that come to me with issues in their marriage, and specifically behaviors in their spouse that they don’t like and in their words makes it “hard for them to love their spouse.”
Let me just put a little caveat in here, like I always do. If your spouse is being physically abusive, I am NOT telling you to just accept it and live with it. If you or your children are being physically abused, if you are in danger in any way, that is NOT what I am talking about here.
I’m talking about behaviors like
- Looking at pornography
- Leaving the church
- Not living up their commitments
- Putting other people and things before their wife and family
- Having an affair
Listen – my friends, your spouse isn’t going to behave the way you want them to all the time. You need to understand that even in the BEST of relationships, spouses do things that the other one doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with, that drives them batty, annoys them, frustrates them, and even things they really despise and hate. This is a NORMAL part of marriage. But your definition of “bad behavior” may not be the same as your spouse’s definition of bad behavior. Your definition of bad behavior might be different than my definition of bad behavior.
Calling someone’s behavior “bad” is a thought. It is a thought that you are choosing to believe which is causing a lot of negative emotion for you.
But I want you to think about how ACCEPTING your spouse for who they are and what they do, even behaviors that you don’t think are acceptable, is an essential part of marriage. Let me say that again… Accepting your spouse for who they are and what they do is an essential part of marriage.
Now…accepting them for who they are and what they do isn’t the same thing as condoning bad behavior. This is where we get ourselves into trouble. We think that if we accept our spouse for who they are, bad behavior and all, that we are somehow condoning the bad behavior. We are saying it’s totally fine with me if you look at pornography or it’s totally fine that you are constantly saying unkind things to me. No, no, no. That is NOT what I am saying. What I am saying is that your spouse can look at pornography. Your spouse can say unkind things to you and you can love them anyway for WHO THEY ARE…bad behavior and all.
That doesn’t mean that you let them walk all over you. That doesn’t mean you let them demean you. That doesn’t mean that you don’t set boundaries. It means that out of love for yourself and THEM you love and accept them for who they are and you love yourself enough to set boundaries where appropriate. We talk a lot about boundaries more in depth in Episode 40, so I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of setting boundaries here. But boundaries are an important part of self-care and loving your spouse. Boundaries make it possible to love your spouse for who they are and love yourself.
When we don’t like who our spouse is or what they are doing, we are full of judgement and resentment. We think they SHOULD be different. This does NOT help build a better marriage. Being judgy and resentful doesn’t make it so that your spouse wants to change. It just makes YOU feel terrible. But accepting them for who they are, flaws and all, and deciding that you can LOVE them anyway, feels so much better.
Acceptance of the truth, of what is actually happening, in the moment isn’t a passive action. Acceptance means that you WILLINGLY see what is true in the moment. You have a clear view of the reality of the situation. Acceptance leads to WISE ACTION. Mindful, non-judgmental awareness of what is truly happening is how you cultivate acceptance.
I love this quote by Elder Dallin H. Oaks
“Tolerance for behavior is like a two-sided coin. Tolerance or respect is one side of the coin, but truth is always on the other.”
So let’s go back to our pornography example. Say your spouse looks at pornography. You can be judgmental, you can make his looking at pornography about you (that somehow you aren’t “enough” for him), you make it mean that he is a despicable human, that he’s totally disgusting. This is bringing up all sorts of ugly negative emotions in you.
You can accept that your husband looks at pornography. You don’t like it but you don’t make it mean anything bad about him or bad about you. Yep, he looks at pornography. Do you want that for him? No. Do you want to set boundaries around him looking at pornography? Maybe. But you don’t have to make it mean that he’s a horrible person. That he’s disgusting and selfish. You don’t have to try and make him feel guilty or shame him. You also don’t have to make it mean something about you… that’ you aren’t enough or he wouldn’t look at it if you had done something different.
The fact is, that him looking at porn is usually just his way of coping with negative emotion. Is it a good way to cope, I don’t personally think so. But it is his way of coping.
You have your ways of coping with negative emotion too. Maybe you shop. Maybe you eat. Maybe you exercise. Maybe you watch Netflix. Now…your ways of coping may not be “as bad” in your eyes. But it’s still the same thing. It’s a buffer. You both have buffers. Does he judge you and think you are a horrible person for binging on netflix? Probably not. But if you remove the emotion out of it. Remove the judgement. Remove the resentment and take it down to what it really is….can you just accept it?
Can you accept that right now, this is who he is and how he deals with things? Is it a great way? No. Would you like him to find a better way? Yes. But can you accept him for who he is right now?
I love the quote by President Thomas S. Monson “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
Can you see your spouse’s bad behavior as a problem that ISN’T more important than loving him?
Learning to accept something you don’t agree with or even strongly oppose can actually help you get some authority over it and even set you free.
If you can learn to just accept your spouse with their bad behavior and not let it affect you in a negative way, think about how much more free you will feel. You won’t have the constant thought in the back of your mind wondering if they’ve looked at porn today. It’s very freeing to just love and accept your spouse for who they are without constantly worrying about what is going on in their mind and in their world.
Now… how is acceptance different than indifference.
Acceptance is receiving something that is offered…no matter what it is.
Indifference is lack of interest, concern, or sympathy. Indifference is you don’t care.
Acceptance is knowing your husband watches pornography, you don’t like it, but you choose to love him anyway.
Indifference is you don’t care that he watches it. You don’t care enough about him to care what he does or doesn’t do.
And you may have gotten to that point in your marriage. Maybe it’s gotten to the point where you just don’t care anymore. So then you need to decide what you are going to do from here. Are you going to try to get to place of love and acceptance? Or are you ready to move on?
I really think that the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. It’s when we don’t care anymore.
I always try to get my clients to a place of love in their marriage before they leave it. I actually have had a few clients recently that I’ve been working for a long time get to a really loving place for their spouse and then decided it was time to go. But they are leaving from a really clean place. A place where they know they’ve done the work and they love their spouse but just know that they don’t want to be there anymore. And truly it is the best place to be. It feels so much better to make that decision from a place of abundance and love rather than a place of hate or indifference. It’s still not an easy choice, but it feels better to make that choice from a place of love.
Remember…out of all the emotions you can choose to feel, love is always an option.