It’s not rocket science to know that rejecting your spouse is a really, really painful thing to do. But, think about the opposite for a moment: if I asked you to sit down and list the things you do regularly to communicate your unconditional acceptance of your spouse: how long would that list be?
First though, let’s start with the opposite of acceptance-rejection. I think it is clear to everyone that it hurts to be rejected, but it is worth knowing how severe that impact is in marriage.
A study from 2013 looked at the psychological adjustment of individuals who had grown up experiencing rejection from their parent and they were rejected by their spouse.
As a side note here; this is something we should be aware of. We tend to choose a spouse who will continue to treat us the same way our parents did: either for good or bad or more typically, for a mixture of those. We’re comfortable with the familiar and so unless we experience some personal growth between receiving caregiving from our parents and entering into marriage, we tend to perpetuate generational problems.
These researchers found that:[i]
72% of men and 68% of women who received acceptance from both their parents and their intimate partner were psychologically healthy and adjusted.
On the other hand, 71% of men and 60% of women who experienced rejection from both their parents and their intimate partner showed serious psychological maladjustment. (Psychological maladjustment meaning that they showed high levels of hostility and aggression, overdependence, negative self-esteem, and self-adequacy, were emotionally unresponsive, emotionally unstable, and had a negative worldview).
We don’t tell you this to make you feel messed up – just to point out that rejection is a very severe experience with very real, very detrimental impact.
The scary thing is, we do this to each other all the time in marriage. Every time your spouse makes a bid to connect with you and you decline – that’s rejection. It might be tiny, it might be big. Everything from declining a bid or proposition for sex that night to ending a hug a little early to an invitation to converse that just elicits a grunt.
We think of rejection as a spouse with a suitcase leaving a note behind on the bed – that’s the most severe, dramatic type, but what about those times when your spouse is trying to talk to you and you’re like “…Huh? Hang on, I’m on my phone.” A thousand minute rejection like this compound to the severity of the one major walk-out kind of abandonment.
It is really important to stop and consider the way we think about rejection because most of us intend to be (or want to be) loving, kind, engaged spouses. But… we also drop the ball a lot and may not fully grasp the cumulative severity of this.
Let’s look at the positive side now and talk about acceptance.
The Important of Acceptance
The first thing to look at is unconditional regard which is one form of acceptance. Unconditional regard is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what they say or do.
In Christian language, this is brotherly love coupled with the effort of separating the sinner from the sin. (Carl Rogers originally birthed the idea of unconditional positive regard – not sure if he’d agree with Caleb’s Christianized definition, but it works for us!)
A study looked at college students in romantic relationships – I’m presuming most were unmarried but I think the principles apple to marriage. Here’s what he found[ii]:
Negative conflict acts as a mediator between unconditional regard and relationship satisfaction by the effect is has on unconditional regard
Negative conflict may lower the extent to which an individual feels accepted or understood by hi or her partner which then has an influence on relationship satisfaction.
In plain English… Fighting in marriage makes you feel less accepted and less understood, which decreases your satisfaction with the marriage.