Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on helping you construct your values and ACT on them. For example, consider what kind of partner you want to be. Do you want to be a kind, loving, fair, affectionate, transparent, supportive, etc.? You can construct your value in any way you choose. Now take a minute to think back at what influenced you in your early life to select these values in a relationship. Was it your parents’ relationship, or your friends’ parents, teachers, or relationships you saw on the television? It doesn’t matter where you learned that you wanted to be kind, loving, fair, affectionate, transparent, supportive, etc. What is important is that you know that these are qualities that you freely choose to incorporate into your life. No one is forcing these values on you. Now that you know the person you want to be in your relationship and how you came up with those qualities, let us look at how to be the person you want to be.
1) What are you doing that is not working?
These values have been with you for some time, and yet you are not behaving kind, loving, fair, affectionate, transparent, supportive, etc. What are you doing instead? Most people either suppress their thoughts and emotions or avoid them. Do you ever think, “I was wrong,” and don’t apologize? Or, do you feel affection and avoid the emotion so as not to risk getting rejected and hurt? Not acting in the service of your values and suppressing or avoiding this behavior is not working for your relationship.
2) Construct your values.
I mentioned a few of my relationship values above, but what are your relationship values? Try this exercise; when you are 100 years old and died, and your best friend is eulogizing you, what do you want him or her to say about the kind of partner you were throughout your life? Values are yours, not anyone else’s, not even your partners. So this best friend of yours mentioned above has seen you through several relationships and can attest to you being very kind, loving, fair, affectionate, transparent, supportive, etc. (fill in your values here) in all or most of your relationships. Construct them, own them, embrace them, and ACT on them.
3) ACT on your values
These values are yours. They will transcend all of your relationships. You will be this way in each of your relationships. They are not contingent on your partner acting in any way. Now take small steps. Do one small thing each day in the service of the values you listed above. For example, try being kind or loving regardless of how you are being treated. Choose a small act of affection to repeat throughout the day, regardless of whether it is reciprocated. Choose to listen to your partner for one or two conversations today actively.