Relationship Help: Acceptance or Resignation?

Marriage/Relationship Help Quick Tip

Helen has been trying to get her husband Orlando to be “more expressive” for over a decade of marriage. Understandably, his lack of emotional expressiveness makes Helen feel alone and disconnected. When Helen complains to Orlando’s family, his mother and sisters say, “He’s always been that way…He’s just quiet. Even as a small child he was shy and more to himself.”

What others (family and friends) see as quiet and introverted, Helen experiences as withholding and isolating.

What should Helen do in this case? What would you do if you were in her shoes?

Acceptance Versus Resignation

Helen went to couples counseling and was basically told that she needs to learn to accept Orlando’s lack of expressiveness. Upset, she stated, “I will not resign myself to being in an unhappy marriage!” To resign yourself to something that isn’t working in your marriage/relationship is to remain hopeless and accept defeat. Was the couples counselor telling Helen to accept defeat?

I don’t think so, for the following reason:

All couples must accept things about their spouse/partner that is perceived as less than ideal. The fact is, Orlando tried to be more emotionally expressive and it exhausted him (and it came off as inauthentic) because it goes against who he is. Acceptance should occur in the larger context of a relationship that meets some of your needs. You shouldn’t accept a relationship that continuously leaves you feeling neglected, disrespected, depressed and alone.

When asked if she thought Orlando loved her, Helen responded, “Absolutely. He’s kind to me and I can tell he wants to make me happy…  He knows I love gardening and he created this amazing vegetable garden that we both keep up…”

Helen listed five other ways that Orlando shows his love for her. All don’t involve emotional expression, but nonetheless are powerful ways Orlando expresses his deep feelings and commitment to his wife.

So should Helen accept Orlando’s lack of emotional expressiveness?

Only she can answer that question. But I think it’s fair to say that if Helen ignores or minimizes all the ways Orlando does show his love (ways that are consistent with his personality), Helen will feel like she is resigning herself to an unhappy marital fate.

So if you are struggling to accept certain traits and behaviors about your partner, place this acceptance in the larger context of your marriage/relationship (the context of what also works)–this will help you decide if you are accepting something amongst the larger backdrop of a fulfilling relationship or if you are struggling with resigning yourself to a relationship that is failing on multiple levels.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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