We all know from personal experience how challenging it is to accept people as they are. Whether it is a troublesome boss, an irritating family member, or someone you love a great deal who has annoying habits that you must deal with daily, we are frequently challenged by the desire to change others.
In most relationship situations, cultivating an attitude of acceptance is the wisest and most effective path to relationship satisfaction, but there are also times when people behave in ways that are unacceptable or dangerous. These are times when acceptance is clearly not the right path. Demands for change do not work unless the other person also sees the need for change, but setting personal boundaries around emotional and physical safety is still within our power. In these cases, we can accept the person as they are but that doesn’t mean we have to stay in a close relationship with them.
Accepting people requires that we closely examine our expectations of others. We may wish that a child or grandchild spend more time with us, but if this is not something they want or have time to do, we must do our best to create expectations that are in line with this reality. Otherwise, we become bitter and resentful and can damage or ruin our relationship with that person. This is not to say that we can’t express our feelings and make respectful requests for change. It is certainly fine to ask for what you want. However, you need to realize that if the person doesn’t change, you have little choice but to work with what is.
Sometimes this involves letting go of the dream and grieving the relationship you wish you had with someone to embrace the truth of what that relationship can be. When change is possible, remember that change takes time and effort and support is always more effective than criticism in helping someone make significant attitude or behavior changes. It’s also helpful to decide whether the change is important enough to request. Constant requests for change often alienate others. Let’s talk about our desire to change others, discerning when change is possible or needed, and how to move toward accepting others as they are.
- How good are you at discerning acceptable behavior from unacceptable behavior?
- Do you perceive yourself as a person who is generally accepting of others or generally critical of others?
- When others are annoyed or distressed about you and ask for you to change, how willing are you to listen and make some of the changes your partner, boss, or adult child wants?
- As you become older, have you noticed an increase in your ability to accept others as they are or has your tolerance for others decreased?
- Share what sources of input have helped you grow in your ability to accept others. These may include books, role models, spiritual principles or other sources of insight.