Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: As someone who has always tried to be heroic in my relationships, I've realized sometimes I need to surrender my expectations and let people be. Recently, I have been trying to practice acceptance in relationships. I do not condone negative actions, but I try not to "fix" people. I am now realizing I have some conflict with that idea. I was listening to Viktor Frankl's lecture on TED.com. Frankl quotes Goethe: "If we take man as he is, we make him worse, but if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be." As a teacher, I agree with this statement. For personal relationships, how should I balance acceptance with idealism or hope for change?
— Johanna R., Tucson, Arizona
None of us got on our knees before our future spouse and said: "Will you take me and judge me? I can't live without learning how to adapt to your moral code." No, we offered love and asked for love in return. I'm sorry to burst any bubbles, but you are not the teacher in your personal relationships (leaving aside your role as a parent). The best course is to work toward complete acceptance, which is based on self-acceptance. This is what Jesus meant about removing the log from your own eye before removing the speck from another's—unless you are completely free of judgment, self-righteousness and moral rules, you can't have the clear, compassionate vision needed to change someone else.
But let me return to the word I'm sure caught every reader's eye—I had to read it twice myself. You say you have been "heroic" in your relationships. Does this mean you have carried the whole burden for two people or you have bucked up in the face of severe trails? I doubt heroism arises in a relationship that is positive and nurturing. The word implies struggle against adversity.
If that's what you meant, then no wonder you want others to change. It's not a question of surrendering to someone who is, for example, an addict or abusive or self-destructive. Women have surrendered to such afflictions forever, yet one doesn't see them fading from the face of the earth. Instead of surrender, let's think about realistic ways to cope with other people when they are being difficult and hard to relate to.
Sit down to think about the relationship. Make three columns marked "Fix It," "Put Up with It" and "Walk Away." Under each column, list the reasons for each alternative. Be objective. How exactly are you going to fix what needs fixing? What are the reasons for putting up with the difficulty instead? What would happen if you walk away instead? Make sure that each column contains everything you want to say.
Now, choose one alternative and follow it. Relationships are complex, so you can have a different approach for each point of difficulty. For example:
He loses his temper: Walk away
He won't do chores: Fix it
He comes home late and tired: Put up with it
He's drinking too much: Walk away (unless he gets help)
He looks at other women: Put up with it
I am not suggesting that these are the right answers for you. But I sense that you are putting up with too much while building up resentment and frustration. Put a higher value on your own happiness. Once you have decided what to fix, what to put up with and what to walk away from, you will have found realistic ways to deal with any relationship without becoming a martyr or resigning yourself to conditions that make you unhappy. I hope this helps.