Love the One You’re With

You won’t change him. Focus instead on why you chose him

If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll wind up wishing, from time to time (or every second), that your mate were different. It’s possible that you’ve gone so far as to wish he were another man altogether. So you reason that leaving is certainly an option. But there’s an even more radical solution: Accept this man and love him as he is, because there’s a reason you hitched your wagon to his in the first place, and you’re not (and never were) stupid.

This isn’t a push for settling into dreary misery. It goes without saying that there are deal breakers; if your husband and the babysitter have purchased real estate together, you are well within your rights to make tracks. What we’re advocating here is totally re-imagining your partner and your relationship. Here are a few tactics that can actually change how you feel, so that you can go from one foot out the door to having both planted firmly, happily, inside.

1. Pay attention to what you love about him and you will love him more.

When you met him, you loved his southern accent, his ambition, and his devotion to his parents.  Now a few years have passed, and the only descriptors you can think of for him are “chews loud” and “buys his shirts too big despite repeated and patient admonition.” Worse, those things that drew you to him have been turned on their heads. Now, he works too much.  He’s a mama’s boy. If you hear him call Coke “sody pop” one more time, you’re so out of here.

Early on, we are blissful because the other person makes us feel great. Then, when we no longer get that stimulation we got from just being in their presence, a feeling that can’t last forever, we tend to resent it. We look for reasons, and like scratching a painful itch, we keep looking at what’s “bad” about him until we can’t see anything else. Ellen Goldhar, a Toronto-based relationship coach, suggests making a written list (Things I Love About My Lover), and insists that focusing on the things on that list will take you back toward the kind of acceptance you had for your partner when everything was new. The good news is: He probably hasn’t changed, and neither have you.

2. Your desire to have sex with someone else is about you, not him.

At age 50, 12 years into a happy marriage, writer and spiritual teacher Trebbe Johnson found herself madly infatuated with a younger man.  “I wanted to think the whole thing was about this new guy, about ‘us.’ I wanted to believe that what we had was this crazy passion, this other-worldly connection.”  But as she thought about it more and talked about it with her friends, she was led to a revelation—this longing she felt was about that myth that there’s one perfect beloved for us out there, a sexual and spiritual union that will complete us.  “What we’re really longing for when we yearn for someone else is the desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  I was convinced that this young man was my path, but when I thought about it I saw that what was really in my path was writing a book about desire.’’ (That book turned out to be The World Is a Waiting Lover.) It is so easy to think that Dan from accounting is your long-lost soul mate.  But could it be that you imagine that Dan sees you in a way you wish you could see yourself?  Or that there are things about Dan that you wish you could incorporate into your own life?  Because you can accomplish all of that staying in your present relationship. No Dan required.

We know it’s hard, but when lust strikes, sublimate. Put all your energy toward something—running a marathon, drawing a self-portrait that actually resembles you, writing 50 pages of a memoir—that will cultivate the self-esteem and generate the excitement you thought you’d get from cheating.

3. Remember that your happiness is your responsibility.

We’ve all found ourselves thinking,  “If only I could get away from him—to be alone, to be with someone else—everything would just be better.”  Such thinking is usually inaccurate and unhelpful.  “If you leave a relationship out of frustration, resentment, or anger, without having learned how you created that circumstance in the first place, all you will do is take yourself and your challenges into the next relationship.  Relationships, i.e. our connections to others, “are reflections of our connection with ourselves,” Goldhar says.  So resist the impulse to find relief in separation.  Chances are it will only last as long as you avoid getting at the real issue, which, as always, for better or worse, is you. Work on yourself, through yoga/meditation, therapy, whatever. Then take another look at him. Surprise!

Here’s the scariest part: When you don’t accept him, you’re rejecting your own choice. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re making yourself out to be a fool. But when you do accept him, you accept yourself, and that’s really what you’re after, isn’t it?

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