Sunday, December 23, 2007

Understanding and Acceptance

For a smidgen under 36 years my husband has never understood why red represents milchigs in our house and blue is fleishig. He tried early on to reason with me: red is the color of blood and milchig things aren't bloody. I merely smiled and served him his chicken on a cobalt blue plate and his waffles on a red-rimmed one. This really has not presented any marital difficulty for us, because despite his lack of understanding my husband accepted this as what I wanted. I could have pointed out--and actually did on a few occasions--that my mother in law had neither blue nor red in her kitchen: kitchen colors follow all the colors of the rainbow.

My husband doesn't believe in greeting cards. He sees no point in them and considers them a nuisance and just another way for Hallmark to grab money from the public. I don't understand how or why he feels this way; he can't understand why I like them. Understanding is not necessary; I have accepted that he doesn't want a greeting card for any occasion and he has accepted that I do want the card. It's not about understanding--it's about acceptance.

I made a comment on another blog that you don't need your spouse to understand you so much as you need them to accept you for who you are. People did not agree. Mostly single people did not agree. Perhaps I need to expand on the statement.

There are some areas where a couple need to "understand" each other in order for a marriage to be successful for both of them. Those areas are very few. Perhaps general beliefs about frumkeit fall in these areas. What is absolutely essential, however, is for a couple to accept each other, warts and all. My husband does not need to understand how I came to be a romantic, a believer in happy endings. He only has to accept that this is an integral part of me. Perhaps part of that acceptance is understanding that I am not going to change at this late date. I am not going to change that sometimes visible streak of cynicism that my husband has, nor can I understand where it came from. But then, I don't have to understand it: I long ago accepted that it is part and parcel of who he is. Because he loves me and because I love him we don't try to change each other.

We need to like who we are; there must be self-love and self-validation. But we also have the need for validation by others. We need to feel that we are accepted for who we are. We need to be secure that those closest to us are not judging us negatively. When a marriage is based purely on "understanding" your spouse, you are doomed to fall into the judgement trap. What cannot be understood, what is understood poorly or negatively leaves a spouse bewildered. Then come the questions such as "How did I marry someone who feels this way?" Or "That is the wrong way to think about things/feel about things."

Acceptance makes no value judgements except for the most important one: Acceptance says that what you have chosen to be is just fine with me. I don't need to understand it because I am not standing in judgement of you. Who you are, no matter what the underlying reasons, is who I have chosen to be with.

This does not mean that married people should never try to understand each other. It does mean that the understanding is irrelevant for the most part, particularly when understanding gets coupled with a desire to change the understood action or thought.

Yes, when I wanted to buy item X for the house my husband wanted to understand the reasons that X would be good for the house. That kind of understanding is part of basic communication between two people. But the fact that red is my favorite color does not require understanding on his part. The fact that I cry at sad movies does not require understanding. The fact that I am never ever going to buy something made in Germany does not require understanding. The fact that I love silver and crystal does not require understanding.

My hubby and I are very different and there are some who wonder how we could possibly have had a happy marriage for all these years given the differences. What these people fail to recognize is that we are identical in the most important things. We accept each other for who we are. We "understand" what is important for us. That's what love is all about.

William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments,
love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown,
although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool,
though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Sonnet #116.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes understanding helps to build the acceptance, like knowing about a difficult home life and how that can cause a person to act in their own marriage. But you are basically right. When my husband and I say that we know each other better then anyone else knows us we are talking about accepting each other and all the things that came with us when we entered marriage. About the only person my husband feels comfortable confessing a mistake to is me because he knows that I may ask why he did something but he also knows that I will accept him and all the things he does without being his judge.

Thanks for the sonnet. I haven't read it since college but it still has good advice.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the problem is that a lot of single people mix up knowing with understanding. I know my wife very well. I don't always understand what I know but that is ok as long as I accept her and she accepts me.