"Huh?" is the usual response I get from clients when I say this. Followed quickly by "that is just not possible," "this is too horrible" and "how can you say that this behavior is okay?" And sure, maybe you can't actually "fall in love" with your husband's ADD or your wife's anxiety about what the neighbors think, but maybe you can make room for this trait in the marriage. Maybe you can stop punishing your spouse. Because really, what choice do you have?
In some cases, the "problem" behavior is the thing about our spouse that we fell in love with five, ten or 40 years ago. But somewhere over the years, "I love that he is so social" turns to "I hate that he is never home."
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You could spend the next five to 50 years shaming, raging or belittling your spouse, or you could find a way to accept this unacceptable trait. Now, you might be thinking: 'My spouse's behavior is truly unacceptable.' If that's the case, you need to think about getting out of the relationship. A union can't survive when one person actively hates the other. I think that the ongoing daily or weekly vitriol is, in the end, more damaging to the relationship that the trait itself.
But let's say that you do find a way to step away from "hating" your spouse's trait, and you stop punishing them. Funny things happen with acceptance, empathy and love — namely change. Real and lasting change can happen. It sounds crazy, but it actually works. When confronted with anger, disappointment and frustration, we tend to dig in our heels and resist change. But when we are given love and acceptance, it frees us up to explore other ways of being.
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Imagine that you and your spouse both have on tee-shirts that read "You are the problem." Imagine that you are facing each other, pointing and yelling "You are the problem!" — heels get dug in, and it becomes a test of wills. Absolutely no change can take place in this situation. Now imagine that there is a sign on the wall that says "the problem" and you and your spouse are looking at it. You are standing shoulder to shoulder and both pointing at the sign and saying "that is the problem and together we can figure this out." That feels pretty different, doesn't it? Keep reading ...