5 Life Lessons People Learn Too Late

Strong relationships make for a rich life, but we're often mistaken in the ways we pursue them.

By Elizabeth Svoboda from Psychology Today
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine February 2014

don't wait handJoel Holland for Reader’s Digest
IF YOUR AMBITION is to lead a satisfying life, your best bet is to cultivate connection. Studies show that people who enjoy rich ties with friends and family are happier, have fewer health problems, and are more resilient. When it comes to relationship advice, it’s also wise to approach conventional wisdom with a critical eye. We’ve culled the data, consulted the experts, and arrived at five essential lessons that depart from hand-me-down norms.

Lesson #1:
Radical Acceptance Saves the Day

The idea that we can fix perceived flaws in our partners, friends, parents, and grown children remains tantalizing. Decades ago, the musical Guys and Dolls lampooned this notion with the lyrics, “Marry the man today, and change his ways tomorrow.”

A healthy dose of ego often convinces us that our way of looking at things is right, but trying to “correct” someone else usually backfires, says psychologist Paul Coleman, author of “We Need to Talk”: Tough Conversations with Your Spouse. “It implies that we’re coming from a more enlightened place, that we have a deeper knowledge of what’s best,” he says. The other person may get the message that he or she isn’t good enough and become resentful.

A healthier approach: “Look inward to fix the problem,” says Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel. If your partner hates large gatherings, consider attending the next party solo so he doesn’t have to make forced conversation and you don’t have to leave early. Or if your son says he wants to forgo college for now, try to express enthusiasm for his budding career as a nature guide instead of bombarding him with school rankings. This involves the recognition that you’ll never be in sync about some matters. “You have to say, ‘We have this permanent difference, but we need to learn to live with each other,’” Coleman says.