mole hillsOne characteristic of a mutually-trusting relationship is that both parties understand and accept the other’s basic human imperfections. Recently I gave a talk on picking wise battles. Regular readers of this blog know that I heartily favor facing issues while they are still small… at the same time if we feel compelled to address every little thing that gets under our skin, we can come off as critical and whiny – which defeats the trust we are working to establish.

While it’s important to engage in those battles that are worth fighting, we must also have some handy de-escalation techniques in our trust-building toolbox. Two that work well are acceptance and detachment. By accepting certain things and detaching from others, we become less annoyed with each other so we can face the pressures of the workplace in a shoulder-to-shoulder way.

[Personal Note: As a 20-year member of Al-Anon, I learned to use acceptance and detachment in the crucible of coping with a loved-one’s addiction. Thankfully, the concepts apply equally as well in the everyday world.]

Acceptance and Detachment

Someone is behaving in a way that really bugs us. We are tempted to react with whining, begging, ridiculing, embarrassing, nagging, scheming, controlling, punishing, manipulating, scolding, threatening, coercing, bribing or gossiping. These common but unhelpful approaches may get us through a rough moment but they can leave scars in our wake.

bruce hendrickAcceptance is the art of seeing the other person as a valuable contributor to the team while actively overlooking their annoying (to us) behavior. My wife Donna overlooks certain behaviors of mine, as I do with her – since a repeated argument over these molehills is not helpful for the relationship. The goal is harmony with another adult, not endorsement of the troublesome behavior. Once in a while one of us will choose to change our own behavior and the other partner shows gratitude (without sarcasm) when that happens. It takes effort and does not happen overnight. It also takes the understanding that none of us are entitled to live on “planet fair” – just planet Earth – with fellow imperfect people.

Detachment is the art of getting our own needs met without depending on the other person to make the specific choice that we want them to make. I stop waiting for them to make that choice and begin making my own choices independent of theirs. Let’s say (hypothetically!) our spouse is a lousy cook or makes unhealthy meal choices. Rather than continually complain or silently suffer, I can go to the store myself and/or learn to cook. If I do this without animosity or resentment, I’ve “detached” from their behaviors and developed a better path for myself.


We can enjoy great, mutually-trusting relationships regardless of whether other people conform to our personal tastes! Good people around us may very well remain stubbornly human. As we accept them and choose to see these people in a more favorable light, we can reclaim the keys to our own contentment.


My next post will go into a few real-world examples to see how to put acceptance and detachment into action. Stay tuned!