I was ready to walk out of the relationship one night when we were at each other's throats. I yelled at him, "You're impossible. I love you, but I can't keep doing this!" I left our Upper West Side apartment shaking with anger and hurt, storming down Broadway until I found a hotel to see if a room was available. I eventually returned home late that night, but realized that I had to do something different or our relationship would not survive.
I explained our drama to my friend, sharing how conflicted I felt. Her advice stopped me dead in my tracks. I suddenly realized the mistake I'd been making my entire life. I had been perpetuating the turmoil in our relationship by continuing to focus on Sanjay's flaws. Instead, I needed to accept him as he was and commit to loving him. I needed to fully accept myself as well and not let the fear of rejection prevent me from being open and honest with my feelings. I have always been an extremely guarded person. Although I was raised by a loving family, I experienced considerable turmoil when I was growing up and learned to isolate myself emotionally, almost always avoiding conflict as a means of protecting myself. As a result, I had a very tough time opening up and sharing who I really was.
So when I finally met the love of my life, I wasn't ready.
I wanted to be close to Sanjay, but found it very difficult to do so. I kept finding fault with him. I wanted him to change to fit me. Yet somehow we kept the relationship alive, and, after a few years of dating, we moved in together, choosing a sunny apartment across from the Natural History Museum. We had chemistry galore and loved each other passionately. Yet I would keep him at arm's length when it got too difficult — which it often would. We fought — a lot.
Sanjay had his flaws. I had mine. But he was a truly good guy and we loved each other unremittingly. I realized that if we were to stay together, our path forward to a committed and fulfilling relationship would require a profound approach — or more so, a radical one.
What was that new approach? It's what I have come to call Radical Acceptance.
I believe radical acceptance is the key to making a relationship not only work — but thrive. It's been the key to making my relationship with Sanjay incredibly deep and rewarding.
So, what is radical acceptance?
Radical acceptance means loving someone fully for who he or she really is — flaws, short-comings, weaknesses, warts, and all. It signifies loving someone without judgment. It is love filled with empathy and compassion.
Radical acceptance is the essence of unconditional love. It creates so much safety that the "lovee" can truly be him or herself. To radically accept someone means: I know of your flaws, failures, weaknesses, and short-comings. I still love you.
Studies have shown that people feel good about themselves after they have given a gift. Radical acceptance is gift-giving on steroids, thus an immense opportunity for the giver to feel better, because it truly is the most powerful, valuable gift you can give to someone.
Just think for a moment how it would feel if you knew your spouse or significant other fully accepted you — ALL of you? Wouldn't that be the most liberating and empowering feeling imaginable? In my observations, only a lucky few have achieved such a status — but it is my belief that almost every one can. I say almost every one because radical acceptance requires a considerable amount of work, so only those willing to put a lot of effort into their relationship can get there.
I came to the concept of Radical Acceptance over time based on my own experiences; by carefully observing and discussing others' relationships; and by connecting the dots between the research my company, YourTango, has conducted on love, along with some powerful insights from a couple of other pivotal thinkers and writers in the love and relationship arena.
My wise friend who counseled me to "just love him," certainly planted a powerful seed around the notion that I should quit analyzing my relationship with Sanjay and simply love him as he was. Then, after reading Thomas Moore's brilliant book Soul Mates: Honouring The Mysteries Of Love And Relationship, I was led to my epiphany to start a media company devoted to love and relationships. I was moved by how Moore calls for people to embrace the darkness, the murkiness, the shadows of a relationship and the people in it as a means to truly connect on a soul level with one another. I was also moved by the Imago communication framework originated by relationship expert Harville Hendrix, who is an important source of inspiration for a key aspect of Radical Acceptance — indeed it's the basis of what I describe as Radical Communication.
Over a number of years, I had unwittingly developed a crucible in which these sources of inspiration, along with plenty of heartache and soul searching in my personal life, ultimately crystalized into the concept of Radical Acceptance. As I thought through it, I determined that it was a powerful formula with five distinct steps (see below). And then I practiced and experimented extensively with them to be able to personally claim that Radical Acceptance truly works. Keep reading...