The 5 Radical Steps I Took To Save My Troubled Relationship

Photo: Prostock-studio/ Shutterstock
couple photo at sunset

"Andrea, just love him." These were the surprising, profound words a wise friend had for me when I called to consult her after having a particularly bad fight with my boyfriend (now husband), Sanjay.

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.

RELATED: 15 Rare Signs You've Found Lasting Love That's Real And True

I explained our drama to Lorell, a wise friend who provided amazing counsel to me. I shared how conflicted I felt and that’s when she proffered those three magic words.

“Just love him.”

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 shortcomings and the challenges in our relationship.

Rather than continuing to blame him — and not acknowledge where I was at fault, I realized I needed to love him as he was and do all that I could to save the relationship.

Rather than sit around fretting and feeling bad about what he did or didn’t do or the conflict that often bubbled up, I also realized that I needed to fully accept myself and not let the fear of rejection or feelings of vulnerability prevent me from being a much better, more open and proactive partner.

I have always been a pretty guarded person. My tendency had been to isolate myself emotionally, almost always avoiding conflict as a means of protecting myself.

I have also been, like many professional women who are passionate about their careers, profoundly guilty of putting my work first. (OK, also second. And sometimes, third.) Sanjay would joke that he was hoping he could move up from the tenth priority on my list.

He’d usually say it in a joking manner, but it really wasn’t ever funny. Looking back, I can see why he felt hurt and how that hurt would bubble into anger and criticism, causing the conflict in our relationship to boil over and cause me to retreat and withdraw, only exacerbating the problem.

Sanjay and I loved each other deeply. We were truly committed to one another. But, for all of our commitment and love, we continued to run into the same wall of not feeling loved enough by one another.

So, after years of ups and downs, punctuated with painful, protracted conflict, I reached the last possible conclusion:

I finally realized that I needed to change. I realized that I needed to take the lead and forge a path forward to build a fulfilling relationship.

I realized it would require a profound, new approach — in fact, a radical one.

What was that new approach? It's what I have come to call Radical Acceptance.

Radical Acceptance is the key to making a relationship not only work but thrive. I believe in the practice so passionately that I even wrote a book about it — Radical Acceptance: The Secret of Happy, Lasting Love.

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical Acceptance means loving someone fully for who he or she really is — flaws, shortcomings, weaknesses, and all. It is loving without judgment. Indeed, it’s going a big step further and replacing judgment with empathy and compassion.

To radically accept someone means: I know of your flaws, failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings. I still love you, here and now. I won’t resist or resent these differences and shortcomings. I will try to extend them tenderness and make peace with them.

Innumerable studies have shown that people feel better about themselves after they have been given a gift. Radical Acceptance is gift-giving on steroids, creating an immense opportunity for the giver to feel better because it truly is the most powerful, valuable gift you can give to someone else — and to yourself.

Radical Acceptance opens your heart and mind in truly transformational ways, which is why it is so powerful and healing, both to the person practicing it and the recipient of it. If you commit to it and practice it, it’s a total game-changer.

A beautiful quote from Wes Angelozzi captures this brilliantly, “Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”

Radical Acceptance is as much about accepting others’ shortcomings as your own. We all deserve more kindness and tenderness from ourselves. How often does that endlessly critical loop of doubt, guilt, shame, and criticism run on endless repeat in your head?

Those inner voices of judgment have also been damaging and undermining to me. This is why I emphasize that extending Radical Acceptance to yourself is crucial.

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 everyone can. I say almost everyone because Radical Acceptance requires a considerable amount of work, fortitude, and emotional resilience, but it is worth every ounce of effort you’re willing to make — both for that other person and for yourself.

In addition to my own experiences, challenges, and eventual triumphs, I came to the concept of Radical Acceptance over time based on carefully observing and advising on others' relationships and by connecting the dots between the research my media company, YourTango, has conducted on love, along with many powerful insights from innumerable thought leaders in the fields of mental health, brain science, neurobiology, psychotherapy, and relationship counseling.

For so much of my life, I had been observing how so many people I knew and were close to struggling in their relationships, how frequently even kind and caring people let their egos, their judgments, their hurts, and counter-productive narratives get the best of them — often with very hurtful, damaging consequences, including, sometimes, divorce and infidelity.

And not just in romantic relationships! I see dynamics such as these all the time — among parents and children, siblings, friends, colleagues, and others who care about one another but get bent up like pretzels, unable to work through so many common relationship issues.

Over a number of years, I had unwittingly developed a crucible in which various sources of inspiration, along with plenty of heartache and soul searching in my own and in the observations of others’ lives, ultimately crystallized into the concept of Radical Acceptance.

As time went on, I developed a powerful formula with five distinct steps that I detail below.

The results? Radical Acceptance has had a transformative impact on innumerable relationships — with others and with oneself. I have had many parents tell me how powerful it has been to improve and heal relationships with their children.

Radical Acceptance truly is a practice, starting with the active compassionate acceptance of yourself — flaws, shortcomings, weaknesses, and all. You commit to loving your partner (or child, parent, friend, etc) fully — right here, right now, ignoring the itch to fix, control, improve, or judge them.

RELATED: 12 Sweet Things To Say When Someone Asks, 'Why Do You Love Me?'

You make every effort to exercise emotional restraint when it’s called for and to look within and be radically honest with yourself in terms of where you may be contributing negatively to the problems in your relationship.

You go the extra mile to communicate that you truly do love ALL of him — including the parts that appear scary, foreign, difficult, weird, or hard to love. You prioritize your partner, you prioritize your relationship.

I always say love is an action word because it’s ongoing, endless deliberate actions and conscious efforts that energize and build a lasting love. You dedicate yourself to the practice of Radical Acceptance and keep doing it, again and again, and again.

Another one of my favorite, motivating quotes comes from David Bell, a long-time mentor, and friend who said, “Changing another person is an act of aggression. Changing yourself is an act of love.”

Yes! A big amen to that.

Rather than letting Sanjay push my buttons and getting upset at the things that disappointed me, made me feel angry, and caused me to fight back, I decided that I would accept the parts of him that upset me and simply love him — all of him.

If I am being brutally honest, I typically blamed him for the conflict, not realizing how toxic and damaging the blame was and not realizing how I was contributing to our problems, causing him to feel hurt and unloved.

I committed to doing a much better job of taking responsibility for where I was at fault, whether it was because of my behavior (or more like the lack of loving behavior far too often) or because I had a tough time managing the challenges in our relationship in a mature, constructive manner.

I confess that this was hard. And sometimes it can still challenge me. But I am committed to the practice of Radical Acceptance because I can say (shout! sing!) unequivocally: IT WORKS.

It’s not a quick fix — far from it. It takes wisdom, maturity, patience, emotional resilience, a willingness to let go of your ego, and the need to be right. And most of all, it takes a lot of work. It truly is a practice.

I have discovered that Radical Acceptance is the most important, meaningful work of my life which is why I am super excited to share it with you.

Please also note that this is for everyone who wants to achieve happy, lasting love — to feel more confident and compassionate, to be more connected to friends and family. While I principally write in a conversational “hetero-girlfriend-to-girlfriend” tone to make my writing as natural and personal as possible, I hope my message will appeal to you regardless of your gender or sexual orientation (as well as your age, race, culture, or religion).

Now, you may be thinking: Isn't Radical Acceptance just another way of settling? Or passively allowing someone to be a jerk or abusive or self-destructive? Emphatically: No, it is not.

There are two important points to make here about what Radical Acceptance does for you —​ and what it should never do:

1. Radical Acceptance makes you stronger

It is fundamentally empowering. It is a bold, powerful choice because it is fundamentally choosing love. It is not rolling over nor taking the path of least resistance. It is not resigning yourself to subsisting on crumbs or being a doormat. Frankly, it's a lot easier to fight and stay stuck in old crappy patterns than to exhibit the strength and perseverance required for Radical Acceptance.

2. Radical Acceptance works when it comes to what can generally be characterized as personality shortcomings — not abusive tendencies

By personality shortcomings, what I mean are things like quirks, bad habits, and different styles and preferences — NOT acute character flaws, and never when any form of abuse is involved.

It is crucial to recognize the difference between the two in your partner. He talks too loudly, he doesn't clean up after himself, and he spends excessive time watching TV ... on and on and on.

Assuming none of these are present in the extreme, they are not necessarily character flaws. They may be frustrating and annoying, but if he is ethical, trustworthy, moral, and kind — in other words, if he’s a good guy — he warrants Radical Acceptance.

But if he is truly a jerk, abusive, overly narcissistic, have substance abuse issues, or anything along those lines, Radical Acceptance is not the answer. If there’s mental, physical, or emotional abuse of any kind, get out of the relationship, full stop.

With that in mind, I want to share my formula for deepening — and maybe even saving — your relationship by practicing Radical Acceptance. I hope that you find them as useful as I have.

If you'd like, you can find them broken out in even more actionable detail in my book.

RELATED: 20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* Love

Here are the 5 steps I took to save my relationship, thanks to Radical Acceptance:

1. Just love him (or just dump him)

You will identify his unlovable parts, and then you will commit to just loving him, no matter what. If you can’t commit to loving him, then it’s time to move on.

Without this crucial, binary step, Radical Acceptance cannot happen.

2. Stop, reflect, introspect

You will explore what happens when you inevitably want to reject something, maybe several things, about him. You will want to make him stop doing that extremely annoying thing he does.

Perhaps you’ll mutter “Oh my God! I’m going to kill him” under your breath. That’s okay — who hasn’t felt these excruciating pangs of anger and hurt? Stop, Reflect, Introspect is a powerful technique that allows you to get outside your emotional reactions. Not only will this help prevent blowups, but you will also understand what occurs internally for you that enables so much pain and hurt.

Learning about the impact of body language and how a powerful bio-feedback exists within each of us makes this step very actionable.

Empathy and compassion also play a leading role here!

3. Radical communication

This involves a number of proven methods for creating safety in your relationship. Safety and trust are essential ingredients for successful communication.

Creating a safe space for vulnerability is crucial for Radical Acceptance to fully take root — as is learning what sabotages safety and productive communication.

4. Love all of him — even the “unlovable” parts

There is no such thing as meeting him halfway when it comes to Radical Acceptance. Radical Acceptance means you always have his back — even when he is wrong. Radical Acceptance is unconditional love — when it feels unbearably difficult when you feel deeply hurt or disappointed, or even when you feel he is at fault.

5. Apply the platinum rule and make him your priority

Yup, we’re going one past the golden rule! In this step, I urge you to practice how to express your affection in ways that are most meaningful to him, and how to train yourself to become more in tune with his wants and needs without becoming a feminist’s nightmare! I also emphasize how crucial it is to make sure he’s a priority to you — and that he knows it.

Prioritizing him and prioritizing your relationship is key to Radical Acceptance working and key to achieving happy, lasting love. If you want to feel truly valued and actively cared for, do the same for him.

I always say “Love starts with you!”

So often we wait for someone else to make us feel loved and cherished. We get cranky when they don’t meet those, often never-verbalized, expectations and a vicious cycle starts.

Step 5 is all about starting a virtuous cycle, where love and abundance beget love and abundance.

In the long run, Radical Acceptance has given me a sense of profound grace. It has truly been transformative in my and Sanjay’s marriage. It's helped Sanjay understand me better so that he can more fully accept me.

It's also enabled me to be much more compassionate with him, offering more understanding, tenderness, and empathy.

Radical Acceptance has liberated me of so many dark thoughts, toxic judgments, and petty grievances. It has soothed an isolated heart aching to feel loved. It has brought the very best out of my husband.

Not by insisting he change, mind you, but by taking the high road, by opening my heart and mind day after day, and stretching myself to give him the love he deserves. We both feel so much more loved and understood by one another thanks to our practice of Radical Acceptance.

The time for Radical Acceptance has never been better: what the world needs now is for each of us to be less judgmental and reactive and, instead, more empathetic and better able to open our hearts and minds to one another.

RELATED: 5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day

Andrea Miller is the founder and CEO of YourTango, the leading online magazine dedicated to love and relationships. She has been featured frequently in the media, including multiple appearances on The Today Show, The Early Show, Better TV, CNN, E!, Fox News, ABC, and radio stations across the U.S.