At the heart of all advice about how to have better relationships, resolve conflict, improve connection, and enhance intimacy is the idea of simply learning to accept others for who they are. Acceptance is, after all, the highest form of love.
In her new book, Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love, Andrea Miller, the founder and CEO of YourTango makes the compelling case that acceptance isn’t just good for our relationships — it’s also good for us.
Although Miller founded an organization whose mission is to help people love better and connect more meaningfully, her own personal story is a testament to the power of radical acceptance. Soon after falling instantly in love with her then boyfriend Sanjay, she found herself in argument after heated argument with him, feeling as though she simply couldn’t find a way to make the relationship work.
“We had chemistry galore and were committed to each other, yet we sustained a lot of frustration that never seemed to get resolved,” writes Miller.
Then, in desperation, she consults a trusted friend who says to her, “Andrea, just love him.”
With those words, everything changed.
“Upon deciding to ‘just love him,’ I was finally really making a commitment to him and to our relationship,” writes Miller.
As a result, she not only decided to found YourTango, but also an idea she calls “radical acceptance.”
Radical acceptance goes beyond simply loving without judgement. Rather, it is about replacing that judgement with compassion and empathy.
“To radically accept someone means: I love you right here, right now. I have your back, no matter what. I know your flaws, failures and shortcomings and I still love you. I will not resent or resist them. Instead, I will extend tenderness to them,” writes Miller.
The shift, however, doesn’t occur in the other person – it occurs within the self. Miller quotes David Bell:
“The opponent is not the person with whom you are in a relationship. The opponent is your reaction to this person and what arises in the relationship.”
Radical acceptance requires radical giving, Miller says, and a shift from expecting someone else to make you happy to thinking more about what you have to offer to your partner.
And for those who may be unknowingly sabotaging their own efforts, Miller asks, “When it comes to love, what are you afraid of? When you reflect on life, what kind of people have you been attracting? What’s at your core? What is your approach to dating?”
Miller says that many people also refuse to pay the price of admission for happy lasting love. There is no love that passes an endless test of deal-breakers, cures all of the ailments in life, or doesn’t require some amount of settling.
And while it’s okay to feel uncertain, we can’t commit partially to someone. Because, radical acceptance, and the commitment it brings, is a binary concept. We must begin by making the choice to either just love someone, or just dump them.
“There is enormous power in true commitment and you are making a decision to commit. Being committed fundamentally changes your energy; it changes your consciousness and aligns how you think and behave accordingly,” writes Miller.
With radical acceptance, we also must learn to step outside our own emotional bubble and recognize the neurological cascade we bring upon ourselves every time we experience stress. Whether we bring it upon ourselves through negative thoughts about our partner, or we feel it thrust onto us, stress is our responsibility, and it cannot be used as an excuse for poor behavior.
When we can remove our masks, allow ourselves to be fully seen, and acknowledge that not everyone sees the world as we do, we can learn to communicate radically and as we are biologically intended to. Miller quotes Stephen Porges, who developed the polyvagal theory:
“The goal of mammals – and as good spouses – is to interact in a way that regulates each other’s physiology.”
And while loving even the seemingly unlovable parts of our partners may seem impossible, Miller cites the work of Helen Fisher who showed that the most loving, long-term couples held “positive illusions” of their partners which allowed them to see them in their best light, identify, and empathize with them, even when tensions arise.
Where ethics might call upon the golden rule – treat others as you want to be treated – love requires the platinum rule – love others as they want to be loved. By thinking about what most communicates love to our partners, and finding our way to let go of the hurt and resistance that hinder us, we become more empowered in the process. While we say, “I love you,” the platinum rule calls upon us to prove it.
Full of touching stories, illuminating research, and sage wisdom, Miller’s book is an original take on love – that fully loving someone is not just good for them, it is good for us.
Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love
Atria Books (2017)