“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers
In my DBT practice, I come across many couples who feel that they are in joyless and unfulfilling marriages. Conversations in my office may revolve around complaints about lack of intimacy, ‘falling out of love’; not enough change, poor understanding of the others’ needs, and/or the other doing deliberate acts to cause marital conflict and continued unhappiness. The joy of thinking that they have found ‘The One’ is replaced by questions like, “What was I thinking?”, “I should have known better” and “Why did I marry you?”.
When a person feels that their needs are unmet, they oftentimes look outside the marriage. As the initial bloom of love fades and the mundane of life sets in, whether it be money, intimacy, kids, work – it can become easy to blame your spouse for your unhappiness as your eye (and heart) may start to wander.
I give this great handout to couples with the title – “Have I Married The Right Person?”. I have no idea who the author is, enough to share that it is an article that makes so much sense from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) perspective.
This is where understanding the dialectic of Acceptance and Change comes in. DBT rests upon the idea that two seemingly oppositional things like Acceptance and Change can be balanced, compared and synthesized. An important aspect of succeeding in marriage does not lie in finding the Right Person. It comes from learning how to love the person you found! Learning how to love and accept this person with all their idiosyncrasies, with different belief and value systems, and trying not to change them to act or think in the way you think they should, is extremely important in sustaining a respectful, meaningful, and loving relationship. Changing the way you respond is equally important.
A small anecdote from my own life is that after many years of marriage, my husband absolutely refused to put anything in the dishwasher. Through the years of graduate school I would return home exhausted to piles of pots, pans, and dishes in the sink. I would curse and scream and failed to understand how a ‘reasonably minded’ human being could not see the value of a dishwasher. “If he really loved me, he would know what I needed – what I was asking for”. This was my complaint to our couples’ therapist. When I finally came to understand and accept that he was not deliberately trying to anger or hurt me by this behavior – I began to change how I responded. I grew to understand that my husband was born at a time when a mom was seen as the consummate ‘homemaker’. His mom did everything for him. My husband still does not pack a dishwasher – instead he hand-washes, dries and puts everything back in its place. Loving your spouse is about finding compromise, being in acceptance of who that person is, and changing the way you respond.
Dr. Michele Lob PsyD., MFT, CEDS
Executive Director of DBT Center of Orange County