The Power of Accepting Influence

Relationship therapists and experts John and Julie Gottman utilize a concept of healthy relationships that is based on their research. One of the areas that can either enhance a relationship or decrease closeness in a relationship is the acceptance of influence from a partner. In their research, they found that there was an important difference between content couples and those who are struggling. One person struggled to accept, and sometimes even show interest in the other person’s perspectives and desires.

In therapy, I have seen this occur in many discussions. One person will try to express how they feel, what they wish for, or their dreams, only to have it shot down as insignificant.

Both people in a relationship have to be significant to each other. They have to be willing to hear and understand each other. This means that it’s important to take interest in your partner’s world views, values and interests. It also means that you have to identify how this will influence you as well.

Common Barriers to Accepting Influence

There are 3 common barriers that I see, which prevent people from accepting their partners influence:

  1. Age Differences: When there is a big gap in age, the older person in the relationship often struggles to accept influence from the younger person. Early in the relationship, many of the activities may be surrounding the interests of the older person in the relationship. However, as time passes, this can change. The younger person can further develop a sense of self, and want to express it. But the dynamics of the relationship have been created in a way that this will mean that the older person has to give some things up to make room. This sometimes is a difficult transition.
  2. Gender: In heterosexual relationships, men are much more likely to refuse accepting influence from women. Thus, many of the activities and interests can be focused on what he likes to do. However, both people have to be able to share interests and world views.
  3. Past Betrayals: Betrayal and the discovery of betrayal can set up an imbalance in the relationship. The focus can be heavy on seeking forgiveness. The person who has been betrayed may struggle to open up vulnerability again, enough to share and accept the other person.

Acceptance can come in many forms.

The most important aspect of acceptance is listening. This can create an environment of understanding that allows both people to share in who they are. This can be through activities of interest, and discovering pleasure in those activities. It can also be through discussion, negotiation and sharing of perspectives. In this process, you’ll build a closeness, because you’re showing authentic value in the other person. And a side benefit to this… the other person is likely to give you the same in return.


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