I recently came across one of those relationship memes you see on facebook. It says –
“We can only change when we’re in an environment where we are accepted and loved as we are.”
I’m taking the time to comment on this claim and share my thoughts with you because this statement isn’t just a random social media musing… It comes from one of the most influential couples therapy theorists and trainers in America today. It is emblematic of the times, and it reflects the assumptions and attitudes of the majority of couples therapists on the continent today. I gave it some thought, and I find it deeply troubling for three reasons:
- It claims absolute truth. It leaves no room for exception, paradoxical complexity, or nuance.
- It’s hopelessly idealistic and perfectionistic. Couples who are struggling and desperate for change are incapable of accepting and loving each other “as they are”. While it might be a worthy goal, the reality is that getting there usually involves a LOT of friction.
- It’s simply not true.
Change happens all the time in environments where we are NOT accepted and loved as we are. Think about it for thirty seconds and you will likely come up with examples from your own life. In fact, it is often the pressure that a partner puts on us that makes us examine our own integrity and values. It is within this conflict (even outright rejection or hostility) that we shape our ability to self-validate and discover our boundaries, and to respect our partner for theirs. In other words, an argument could be made for precisely the opposite of this statement!
Frankly, some things about our partner may not be acceptable. Some aspects of them (or us) might not be particularly lovable. And guess what? This is part of the dance of relationship. And it’s a dance where the possibility of change continues to remain ever present.
Yes, full love and acceptance in a relationship is obviously desirable. Of course it is. But this comes as a byproduct of going through the fires of disillusionment and struggle, not by bypassing them.
Internalizing this statement as truth is potentially worse than useless, it can be harmful. Why? Because, like so many other versions of spiritual bypassing (yes, I see this as a form of spiritual bypass), it implicitly encourages us to lie – to ourselves and others – about how we really feel. It justifies denial and avoidance rather than encouraging us to work with the struggle we actually find ourselves in. With almost religious fervor it claims exclusive access to the one path, the one truth, the one light.
Please, test statements like these against your own experience before accepting them as fact, and take them with a big grain of salt.
And consider, we can (and do) continue to change in all sorts of environments.
Do you have something to say about this topic? Leave a comment below.
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