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.