A Matter of Compromise and Acceptance -NY Times
Tue Feb 15 14:12:47 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Look at this in the New York Times!
Andy Christensen will present a 90 minute workshop on the model
at the Smart Marriages conference on Friday morning. All kinds of good
and information to add to your marriage education programs!! - diane
February 15, 2000
A Matter of Compromise and Acceptance
Science Times Columns
The New York Times on the Web: Science
Join a Discussion on Health in the News
By JANE E. BRODY
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." The title of this long-running
off-Broadway show sums up the source of most marital problems. All too
the very characteristics that initially attracted partners to one another
the disturbing behaviors that at first were ignored or considered
eventually become marital sore points and the cause of repeated arguments
Couples struggle to get one another to change -- to conform to each
needs and desires and definition of a more perfect partner. "Why don't
. . ?" "Why can't you . . . ?" "Why aren't you . . . ?" and "You're wrong
." are common pleas and criticisms that are more likely to precipitate
arguments than change. Anger, accusations and attempts at coercion do not
inspire compassion and cooperation, and rarely do couples who use this
approach succeed on their own in exacting the desired changes.
Even those who seek marital therapy before deciding to divorce have
considerably less than a 50-50 chance of achieving and maintaining the
changes that would make for a more peaceful union. The primary focus of
traditional therapy is to encourage both partners to change their
that they can enjoy each other more and hurt each other less. Too often
deliberate changes fail to result from a full appreciation for the other
partner's pain or perspective, and sooner or later the old irritating
A New Approach: Accept
Enter "acceptance therapy," or, as it is technically called, "integrative
couples therapy." This novel concept, which grew out of a therapist's
disillusionment with traditional techniques, is exhaustively described
illustrated in a new book, "Reconcilable Differences" (Guilford
$23.95) by Dr. Andrew Christensen and the late Dr. Neil S. Jacobson.
The two psychologists offer a slew of tools that couples can use to
their differences without the help of a therapist. There are now some
marital therapists in the nation, but with half of marriages doomed to
they are still in short supply. Besides, the cost of therapy often makes
professional aid unattainable by those who need it most.
Of course, for any therapy to succeed in reviving a relationship, there
be a desire on the part of both partners to make a go of it. The approach
integrative therapy is that rather than force change, partners should
by accepting each other's differences and appreciating their individual
sensitivities. Instead of backing partners into a corner by insisting on
changes, this kind of understanding often leads to uncoerced changes that
more lasting and more in tune with each partner's core personality and
One virtue of the book is its utter realism, its repeated warnings that
or another tactic may backfire, which are then followed by new
Dr. Christensen, a professor of psychology at the University of
Los Angeles, emphasizes that their goal "was not to oversimplify the
or give cookbook recipes to solve every problem."
But the National Institute of Mental Health has been sufficiently
with the early results of integrative couples therapy -- a pilot study
success rate of 80 percent -- to award $3 million for a clinical trial
involving about 150 couples. Half the couples will receive traditional
therapy and the other half the integrative approach. The outcome of the
to nine months of treatment will be measured in terms of couple
and stability of the union and the couples will be followed for two
How It Works
The main idea behind acceptance therapy is that acceptance of another
person's traits and behaviors often leads to compassion, and when
learn to use compassion in dealing with one another, they tend to become
willing to let go of conflict and even change the troubling behavior. The
psychologists suggest that partners in conflict work on accepting, even
embracing, each other's irritating behaviors and characteristics.
"To accept means to tolerate what you regard as an unpleasant behavior,
understand its deeper meaning [and] see it in a larger context," Dr.
Christensen and Dr. Jacobson wrote.
Acceptance is most likely to emerge through understanding, so the first
they recommend is to analyze the anatomy of an argument by developing a
about an important relationship problem that incorporates the
both partners, identifies incompatibilities and vulnerabilities and
how each person copes and how the problem escalates into conflict. Then
back over the story to see whether it focuses on differences rather than
defects, vulnerabilities rather than violations, descriptions rather than
"When your focus shifts from the offending actions of each of you to the
spots that are bruised by these actions, you may come to a new
of each other, one that cuts angry arguments short and over time brings
closer together," the psychologists wrote.
Too often, important thoughts and feelings about a conflict are left
either because of a lack of awareness or a fear of becoming vulnerable by
disclosing them. "Yet," the authors wrote, "it is precisely these
that could alter the tone of the discussion and perhaps elicit empathy
When partners feel pressured to change, they tend to become defensive and
withdraw, the psychologists point out. But when partners feel accepted
understood, they are more likely to change willingly, often making more
changes than requested. Even if no change occurs, acceptance and
are likely to bring a couple closer.
One aspect of acceptance may be the realization that what now drives a
crazy about a partner is a characteristic that was a source of the
For example, a woman who is timid and conservative may be drawn to a man
is sociable and spontaneous. But with time and the arrival of children,
husband's tendency to pursue social activities that exclude his wife or
take risks the wife considers dangerous and inconsiderate for a man with
family can become a serious source of conflict.
Another important feature of acceptance is to realize that partners are
being deliberately mean. For example, when a husband failed to tell his
until the last moment that he was going hiking for the weekend with his
friend, she became furious over his inconsiderate behavior. But his
was not to hurt his wife. It was his way of avoiding an argument. To end
vicious cycle of avoidance and hurt, the husband needed to understand and
accept his wife's sensitivity to feeling left out and her difficulties in
making plans of her own.
Keep in mind, though, that acceptance has its limits. The psychologists
emphatically that some behaviors -- like physical and psychological abuse
should never be accepted.
This FREE online newsletter shares information on marriage, divorce and
skills-based educational approaches. Opinions expressed are not
necessarily shared by members of the Coalition.
Copyright © 2000 CMFCE. All rights reserved.
To SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE to the list, mail majordomo at his.com
Leave the subject line empty. In the body of the
message type: subscribe smartmarriages or unsubscribe smartmarriages
(do this on the first line, do not skip a space at the top)
- to CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS, follow the directions to unsubscribe your old
address and subscribe your new address.
- this is a moderated list. When you send a reply message it is read by
Diane Sollee, director, only.
Newsletter archive - all past posts to the newsletter:
4th Annual Smart Marriages conference/June 29 - July 2, 2000, DENVER
for registration, hotel and travel information.
up to 57 hours CEU -APA, SW, MFT, NBCC, CFLE
List your program in the Directory of Providers at:
Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, LLC (CMFCE)
Diane Sollee, Director
5310 Belt Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20015-1961
202-362-3332 (FAX 202-362-0973) Email: cmfce at smartmarriages.com
More information about the SmartMarriages