"Andrea, just love him." These were the surprising words a wise friend had for me when I called to consult her after having a particularly bad fight with my boyfriend, Sanjay.
I was ready to walk out of the relationship one night when we were at each other's throats. I yelled at him, "You're impossible. I loveyou, but I can't keep doing this!" I left our Upper West Side apartment shaking with anger and hurt, storming down Broadway until I found a hotel to see if a room was available. I eventually returned home late that night, but realized that I had to do something different or our relationship would not survive.
I explained our drama to my friend, sharing how conflicted I felt. Her advice stopped me dead in my tracks. I suddenly realized the mistake I'd been making my entire life. I had been perpetuating the turmoil in our relationship by continuing to focus on Sanjay's flaws. Instead, I needed to accept him as he was and commit to loving him. I needed to fully accept myself as well and not let the fear of rejection prevent me from being open and honest with my feelings. I have always been an extremely guarded person. Although I was raised by a loving family, I experienced considerable turmoil when I was growing up and learned to isolate myself emotionally, almost always avoiding conflict as a means of protecting myself. As a result, I had a very tough time opening up and sharing who I really was.
So when I finally met the love of my life, I wasn't ready.
I wanted to be close to Sanjay, but found it very difficult to do so. I kept finding fault with him. I wanted him to change to fit me. Yet somehow we kept the relationship alive, and, after a few years of dating, we moved in together, choosing a sunny apartment across from the Natural History Museum. We had chemistry galore and loved each other passionately. Yet I would keep him at arm's length when it got too difficult — which it often would. We fought — a lot.
Sanjay had his flaws. I had mine. But he was a truly good guy and we loved each other unremittingly. I realized that if we were to stay together, our path forward to a committed and fulfilling relationship would require a profound approach — or more so, a radical one.
What was that new approach? It's what I have come to call Radical Acceptance.
I believe radical acceptance is the key to making a relationship not only work — but thrive. It's been the key to making my relationship with Sanjay incredibly deep and rewarding.
So, what is radical acceptance?
Radical acceptance means loving someone fully for who he or she really is — flaws, short-comings, weaknesses, warts, and all. It signifies loving someone without judgment. It is love filled with empathy and compassion.
Radical acceptance is the essence of unconditional love. It creates so much safety that the "lovee" can truly be him or herself. To radically accept someone means: I know of your flaws, failures, weaknesses, and short-comings. I still love you.