Accepting Who People Are Leads to Happier Relationships

Learning to accept the people in our lives, what they’re able to give us, set boundaries, and stick to them are a few key ways to handling any relationship.

Apr 18, 2023

Accepting Who People Are Leads to Happier Relationships

Growing up, I used to get incredibly hurt when I expected my family to act one way, but they acted in another. Instead of the praise I sought, my brother and I were constantly criticized for putting the dishes away improperly, for closing the front door too loudly, for leaving dirty clothes in the wrong place. Even now, my hope causes a disconnection between what I want to take place versus what will happen. I hope that I’ll get to be a guest during holidays instead of being forced to cook because nothing’s been done by the time I arrive. I hope my mom won’t drink too much. I hope money, or lack of, won’t get brought up. Yet, a combination of some or all these situations inevitably occurs. At some point in recent years, I realized that I can’t change my family, but I can change how I react to my family. Part of this realization was accepting my family for who they are instead of what I hope or want them to be. I’m learning to accept what they can give me instead of focusing on what they can’t. By doing so, I’m finally matching my expectations to the evidential reality, and, in some cases, things end up better than I hoped.

One of the main disappointments in relationships is when you expect one outcome, but the reality fails to meet your expectations. The cause of friction can stem from failure to be treated the way we want, feelings going unacknowledged or ignored, rejection of some part of our core identity, and countless others. When it comes to my family, I’m always so hopeful that this time—whatever interaction it may be like dinner, celebrations, holidays—will be different despite years and years of evidence of the contrary. 

This Easter I was invited over to my mom’s house at 10:00 am. I was late, arriving at like 10:45 am. When I got there, they were still in their pajamas. They bought stuff for burgers, and there was no propane for the grill. My brother finally got propane, turned on the grill, and disappeared. They didn’t clean the backyard, so we had to make do cooking in the front on the dirt with leaves falling on the plancha. I ended up having to grill the burgers to find out there was no cheese and barely enough plates for the kids to eat on. It may not sound like a lot, but the unreliability causes me so much anxiety and dread that’s been compounded over years of undependability and unmet expectations.

Thankfully, everything turned out alright, but just a few years ago, I would’ve gotten so upset. I would’ve spent what should’ve been quality time with my loved ones miserable and fuming. The exact thing I feared happening, happening. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to manage my expectations and set my boundaries. I acknowledge that all of this is a likely possibility. I draft a rough outline in my head of what I will and will not accept. If any of my will-not-accepts happen, I give myself permission to step back, take a break, or leave. These three steps have provided me with immense freedom to enjoy myself and time with my family. Just knowing that I can set my boundaries has done wonders to set me free. 

Constructing this map to handle the most difficult relationships in my life has helped me manage all the relationships in my life from close to professional to acquaintances. Acknowledging the power that I have in a relationship has placed me in control of the situation. It’s also helped me create better relationships because I’m actively practicing seeing the people in my life for who they are and what they can give me, which is miles better than feeling heartbroken when someone isn’t who I expected them to be and couldn’t give me what I needed in the relationship. 

Family, coworkers, and other relationships that we don’t necessarily choose are some of the hardest to navigate. They require so much of us in terms of energy, patience, care, and thought because the people who make up these relationships can be so unlike us, and, sometimes, they’re unable or unwilling for a number of reasons to put in as much effort as we do. Experiencing this is tremendously hurtful and disappointing. But, accepting who people are, what they can give us, setting our boundaries, and respecting our boundaries can make these relationships manageable. In the hopes, like in my family’s case, actually enjoyable. And I’ll definitely put in the work if it means experiencing a little bit more joy, especially with those I love.