Ryan has been with his girlfriend for almost three years. “I really love her,” he tells us. “She’s sweet and funny and loving, and she loves to do the things I like to do, like yoga and hiking…but I’m just not sure if I can stay with her. She’s not very ambitious. She’s not passionate about anything professionally. I used to get on her about it, and she said she was just trying to figure it out. But now, it’s become a real sore spot in the relationship. Anytime I even mention it, she gets very defensive, so I can’t really bring it up any more. I just have to sit quietly and let it bother me. I always pictured myself with an ambitious woman. I don’t know if I can stay with someone long-term that isn’t working at something. I’m so confused.”
Danny can relate, but sees a parallel with his job. “The job is great. I pretty much make my own hours; I make good money; I believe in our products and in the company; the people I work with are cool… But man, the customers I have to deal with sometimes just drive me insane! They’re so needy, and anytime they call, I know there’s a problem. They give me these attitudes and I just want to throw the phone against the wall sometimes. I don’t know if I can take it for much longer, and it sucks because I really like all the other parts of this job.”
After listening to Ryan and Danny, I reflect on how expectations and acceptance have been the themes for Men’s Groups the last few weeks. These men have lost sight of the beautiful parts of their situations, only focusing on the difficult parts, which they just cannot accept.
It sounded to me that the wonderful parts of both these men’s situations outweighed the difficult area. And both confirmed that indeed that was true, but they couldn’t stop concentrating on what they didn’t like. So, I asked Ryan if for one week, he’d be willing to totally and completely accept his girlfriend. All of her. No more pressure, no more forcing, no more frustration over getting her to be who HE wants her to be. And total acceptance also meant really loving and focusing on the beautiful parts of the relationship, rather than taking them for granted. He was willing.
I asked Danny to commit to the same. To accept wholly and completely all of his customers and their feelings—to just accept them as just part of this otherwise wonderful job. No more resentment, no more fighting them or cringing when the office phone rings. Rather, just gently accept their issues as the blocks that set the foundation for an otherwise beautiful house. He was willing, though it would be difficult.
You know what happened after just one week? Both men not only started truly appreciating and enjoying the parts they always liked; they also ironically began to appreciate the difficult parts because, they realized, those areas made up the very unique character of these beautiful and fulfilling situations. Without the difficult blocks, they discovered, the entire house might fall. They even started seeing the benefits of the difficult areas: Ryan realized that his girlfriend WAS passionate about a lot of things, just not a career, and that her lack of professional ambition resulted in her being able to spend more time with him and eventually their children. And Danny recognized the difficult customers were giving him new insight into human motivation and emotion, which was helping him better understand and develop his personal relationships both in and outside of work. Both men felt liberated, grateful, and empowered.
If you’re interested in smoothing out a situation that seems to have a chronic problem or two, consider a few steps that Ryan and Danny took:
- GET CLEAR on whether the benefits of the situation outweigh the costs. In other words, do all the beautiful, enjoyable parts make it worth enduring the difficult areas? Or are the difficult aspects just too much to handle—are they make-or-break elements that simply cannot be ignored? To get clear on this, you might make a list of pros and cons side by side; or you might meditate on all the good stuff for 10 minutes, then all the difficult stuff for 10 minutes, and see which one your gut is leaning towards. Or you just might know right now, even if it’s hard to admit. The important part is to just GET CLEAR so you can move forward in a healthy direction.
- DECIDE whether to leave or to stay. If you are clear that the costs are just too high and you cannot reconcile allowing the difficult parts to exist in your life, and if the other party is not willfully and lovingly doing the work to change the elements completely of their own volition (without your pressure or focusing), then you must decide to leave. Any manipulation or force resulting in change will most likely result in poor and temporary modification and almost certainly lasting resentment from both sides.
- ACCEPT. If you are clear, however, that the benefits outweigh the costs and you subsequently decide to stay, then also choose to accept—totally and completely. All the beautiful and all the difficult. There’s no more forcing or pressuring the other person to change. There’s no more wishing for and manipulating the situation to be different and resenting people when it isn’t. This is a gentle acceptance of all the difficult parts because they are outweighed by the wonderful parts. And to truly accept the wonderful parts, you must not overlook them or take them for granted by concentrating on the difficult; instead, accepting the beautiful means putting your attention and focus on it. Focus on the great parts for one week, while allowing the difficult parts to be there without judgment, and watch what happens.
Now, acceptance doesn’t mean that difficult situations cannot be worked on and improved. They can as long as both parties are lovingly and willingly doing the work—neither can be forced or pressured to do so. Acceptance also does not imply an avoidance of the difficult parts or a complacency. It instead implies that while you accept the difficult, without force or struggle, you also accept the beautiful, by focusing and enjoying it. You may even begin to discover ways of appreciating and eventually cherishing the difficult parts by looking at them from a different perspective. As Ryan and Danny found, there are all types of ways of looking at a situation and existing in a relationship.
Do not settle for a relationship in which the costs outweigh the benefits, and no one is working to improve the balance. But if you find a situation wherein the parts you love and appreciate far outweigh the difficult areas, then you are a fortunate man or woman. Appreciate all the beauty; accept all the difficult; accept the whole person, the whole situation, totally and completely without resentment or judgment. I promise, this will truly be liberating and empowering.