Part of being human is experiencing pain. Most of the time, especially in a situation like divorce, there is no “off” switch for this feeling. But while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
We can’t always make painful situations disappear, but we can learn to accept our circumstances. That’s the essence of radical acceptance – the idea that we accept our life’s circumstances as they currently are. We don’t resist what we can’t – or choose not to – change. It’s what keeps pain from turning into suffering.
Radical acceptance doesn’t mean we become complacent, stop working to improve or change our situation or accept it as okay. It also doesn’t mean that we learn to like what’s happening to us. It’s more like throwing our hands in the air and saying, “It is what it is.” It gives us permission to stop obsessing and ruminating.
As a therapist, I can tell you that much of what happens to us in life isn’t fair. People are forced to endure things all the time that they didn’t “deserve.” So I know how difficult the concept of radical acceptance can be. But like you can’t have light without darkness, you also can’t have joy without pain. Without pain and sorrow, happiness has no meaning. When thinking about the end of your marriage, with time and practice, you can start to look at your pain as a gift. It means you were willing to be vulnerable to experience happiness and to have a deep, emotional relationship.
It also means the happiest days of your life haven’t even happened yet.
Here’s a practical way to get started on this mindset shift. First, recognize whether or not you can solve your problem immediately. If you can, then solve it. If you can’t, then practice acceptance by repeating after me: “I don’t like this situation, and these feelings are extremely painful. But I can’t change it. I accept it for what it is.” Of course, ask God to help you, too.
Radical acceptance requires practice. You might have to do it over and over again until it starts to work – but it’s worth it.