How an Attitude of Acceptance Can Help Your Marriage
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2016 19 Jan
Nothing was the way he wanted it.
Danny, a thirty-seven year old man, had discovered that his wife of fifteen years had been having an emotional affair, and while she was willing to develop safe boundaries so that the relationship would go no further, she was not willing to work on their marriage.
Danny was angry. As the sales manager for a furniture firm, he could be forceful. His dominance had worked well for him in his profession, and he prided himself in his ability to “make things happen.”
Danny fussed and fumed as he sat with me telling me his story.
“I’m not going to sit by and watch my wife ruin our marriage,” he snarled. “I’ve told her how wrong she was to allow this to happen and now she has to work on our marriage. She has to come to counseling. She has to see the pastor with me. She can’t give up on us.”
“How is she responding?” I asked.
“Not good,” he said. “The more I push the more she runs from me. The more I insist on change, the more she tells me I’m not going to control her. I hate her attitude.”
Danny was indeed angry. Actually, Danny was afraid and out of fear he was trying to control everything possible that threatened him.
Danny was convincing in his arguments. I agreed with him that his wife had developed an inappropriate relationship with a colleague at the software company where she worked. However, his I was not convinced that sheer force would win his wife’s heart back to him.
“Do you talk to your wife this way?” I asked Danny.
“Like what?” he asked.
“With anger. With shame.”
“What she did was wrong!” he said emphatically. “Yes, I told her how wrong she was. Yes, I told her she had to work on our marriage. Are you suggesting I simply sit back and let her do whatever she wants to do?”
“No,” I said. “I’m not suggesting passivity. But, I’m also not suggesting aggression or shaming her. Those tactics certainly won’t win her heart. There are sometimes when acceptance of our limitations is needed, and this may be one of those times for you.”
“I don’t understand,” he replied.
“The Serenity Prayer, written so long ago, teaches us to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Let’s talk about what you can and cannot change.”
Danny was clearly not excited about the concept of acceptance. He worked and lived in a world where he made things happen, and when met with something he could not change, threw a fit. This attitude and action had likely played a role in his marital problems. If he didn’t cultivate an attitude of acceptance it could be the total undoing of his marriage.
What could Danny do to save his marriage? How could an attitude of acceptance help him determine how to best interact with his wife? These strategies would help Danny and may help you as well.
First, appreciate the power of acceptance. There is real power in acceptance. We waste a lot of mental, emotional and spiritual energy in worrying about things we cannot change. We fret and fuss, much like Danny, when things are not going the way we would like. We believe things “should” go a certain way, forgetting how little power we actually have over certain situations;
Jesus shared the following truth: “Can any of you add a single hour to his life by worrying?” (Matthew 6: 27) He goes on to illustrate this incredible truth and the power of it.
Second, clearly determine what you can effectively change. While there is much we cannot change, there is much we can. For example, Danny could decide how he would talk to his wife and could choose to talk to her with dignity and respect. He could choose not to be angry and instead deal more honestly and vulnerably with his feelings. He could carefully ask his wife to make changes that would protect their marriage;
Third, clearly determine what you cannot change. We can make clear, honest assessments about that which we cannot change. We cannot make anyone change their feelings. We cannot control their behavior. We cannot make anyone love us or even love us better;
Fourth, accept what you cannot change. Having accurately assessed what we can and cannot change, we can practice the art of acceptance. We can stop railing against that which we have no control. We can stop demanding change over that which we cannot impact. We can confront immature attitudes within us that cause us to feel frustration and anger and again, practice acceptance;
Finally, trust God to manage what you cannot change. While we are limited, God is not. While we don’t know how everything will turn out, God knows. Our problems require us to accept our limitations and place trust into the hands of the One with no limits—God. At that point we truly must “let go, and let God.” The final outcome of practicing acceptance will be a peaceful heart and likely a positive ending to our immediate dilemma.
Practice the above strategies and let me know how they work for you. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: January 19, 2016