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Total Acceptance, Most people confuse acceptance of a person, with acceptance of behavior. But everyone engages in unacceptable behavior, including you, including your mate. If you are withholding acceptance of your spouse until they change their behavior, then your standard for loving is based on performance. No one will totally live up to your standards all of time. So, eventually, all of your relationships will fall apart because they are based on expectations being met.

As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of the Growing Love Network, husband and wife duo, Jon and Joanna Anderson.

Jon R Anderson is the President and Founder of Growing Love Network, a non-profit organization with the purpose of revolutionizing relationships for lifelong love. Along with his wife of 35 years, Joanna, Jon has led more than 130 intensive workshops for troubled and failing marriages. He is the host of the podcast “Relationship Rewire”, and the author of “The Acceptance: What Brings and Keeps Lifelong Love”.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?

I was teaching college courses and running the counseling services department for a large, inner-city college when I was approached by an organization to conduct marriage intensives about once a month. Prior to that, I was in private practice as a Marriage & Family Therapist and most of my clients were marriages that were failing. Most of those marriages did fail and it became more and more disheartening. Over time, I became a full-time instructor and college counselor. So, when they approached me, I was reluctant at first. But they talked me into observing one and I saw how powerful and effective they could be if conducted the right way. So, I committed to doing 6 intensives a year. The next year I committed to 12 per year and cut back on my overload courses at the college. However, I became more and more frustrated with the expensive price tag for the intensives, which made it cost prohibitive to many who needed it. So, in 2013, we started Growing Love Network with a business model that allows us to charge a much lower price, as well as providing scholarship assistance to about half of the couples who participate.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?

Like most couples, we started out madly “In Love”. However, also like many couples, we had begun to dislike each other after a few years and even wondered if we had made a big mistake marrying each other. That is when we began our journey of getting help with our marriage. Over 30 plus years, we went to marriage seminars, took marriage courses, read marriage books and, even, went to couple’s therapy together. We have discovered that, thinking you will have a good marriage if you just marry the right person, is like believing that if you just have the right child it will raise itself. The common main ingredient in both of those endeavors is love. Truly loving someone doesn’t come naturally. It is something we either are getting better and better at doing, or worse and worse. Relationships are dynamic. Which means, there is no such thing as a stagnant marriage. A marriage that feels stagnant is almost always one that is eroding.

Joanna and I would both now say that we would rather be with each other more than anyone else (except maybe our grandson — Ha). That did not happen naturally. It has taken ongoing intentionality.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Although it did not seem funny at the time, we made the mistake of thinking we could be everything to each other… emotionally, relationally, physically. So, we expected each other to fulfill all those things. It was like we went off on a lifelong backpacking adventure together, with all those perceived needs and desires in our backpacks… everything we thought we needed to survive and even thrive. The biggest mistake in this backpacking adventure was that we thought it would be so romantic to carry each other’s backpack. When you do this, it is not awfully long before you realize that you can’t bear the load of being everything to your spouse. And, when you expect them to be everything to you, you begin to see their loving acts toward you as fulfillments of obligations, rather than gifts. So, instead of showing gratitude for the times when the other does loving things for you, you instead show resentment toward the times when they don’t. This is a common mistake that I see almost everyone doing at times.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At our last Love Reboot, the 3-day intensive we conduct about once a month, we had a couple that was sent to us by their divorce attorneys, which is something we see more and more often. Over the past few years this couple had tried everything… counseling, workshops, seminars… nothing had worked. At the end of the weekend, they told us that everything they had tried had no real impact. But Love Reboot had brought them to recommitting to their marriage. They even made a donation to Growing Love Network, right there on the spot. After conducting more than 130 of these, we see this sort of result more often than not.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

About a year ago my book The Acceptance came out. However, the timing couldn’t have been worse with COVID-19 and the economy falling apart. All of our promotional efforts were pretty much put on hold. In the past couple of months, we have hit “restart” on the campaign and have renewed excitement. The Acceptance is a culmination of my work, over decades, with thousands of couples. Unlike other marriage books, which tend to focus on tools and techniques, this book gets to the core of what drives us to look for a mate in the first place, and how that core continues to influence all of our interactions with our spouse. Most marriage books are about treating the symptoms, alleviating pain temporarily but never really addressing the root cause. I believe The Acceptance will totally revolutionize how most of us think about relationships. But, furthermore, it will provide simple exercises and practices which are much more effective, simple, and long-lasting.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Growing Love Network is a small operation. Everyone who works for us, including Joanna and I, get paid as contract workers. That being said, I used to be in charge of about 40 counselors and 60 staff persons. One of the biggest lessons I learned from that experience is that everyone should have a voice in the direction, as well as day-to-day decisions which involve them. As a CEO, you may have an idea that you believe is the best way to move forward for your company. It may seem like it would be incredibly inefficient to get the input of everyone. And doing so may water down the plan. While that may be true, a watered-down plan that everyone feels like they were a part of, is always better than a great plan that gets sabotaged by the people who don’t feel like they had a say in the matter. An employee at the very bottom of an organizational chart wields a lot more power than you would like to imagine. Make sure everyone feels heard and considered.

How do you define “Leadership”?

I define a leader as someone people choose to follow. Being a CEO does not make you a leader… it makes you a CEO. Desirable employees follow shared vision, courage, empathy and humility.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Almost everyone, who has pushed me to the next level, is someone who saw something more in me than I saw in myself. Some were high school teachers or college professors. Some were bosses. Often it was my parents or a family member. Sometimes it was a good friend, or Joanna, my wife. I am super blessed to have had a lot of these people in my life. One that really stands out, though, is Max Lucado. Apart from being a famous author, he has been a pastor at the Church we have been a part of since 1997. Over the years, Max and his wife, Denalyn, have continually encouraged us with tons of support. One reason their support stands out to me is, that the times when we seemed to be the least effective, those were the times when they gave more. I don’t think I would be doing this interview if it weren’t for people like that. Most people just want to be part of something that looks like a shooting star.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Success is a funny word to me. I don’t think anyone who really knows me would refer to me as “successful”. I think the only times I feel truly successful are when I get to be part of something that brings goodness to the world. I feel that way a lot when we are conducting a Love Reboot.

What are the “5 Things You Need to Thrive as A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.

Total Acceptance

Most people confuse acceptance of a person, with acceptance of behavior. But everyone engages in unacceptable behavior, including you, including your mate. If you are withholding acceptance of your spouse until they change their behavior, then your standard for loving is based on performance. No one will totally live up to your standards all of time. So, eventually, all of your relationships will fall apart because they are based on expectations being met. We like to tell each other, “I love everything about you!” We can say that sincerely because we are not talking about the other’s behavior. We are talking about who that other person really is at their core… a wonderful child of God.

Quit trying to change your mate. You can’t. The more you try to change them, the less they feel accepted by you. The less they feel accepted by you, the less they are going to want to grow more and more into someone who makes you feel more accepted.

Trying to change someone else is like spending your resources on something you can’t buy. It only leaves you broke.

Date for Life

When you first started out as a couple, you likely invested almost all of your extra resources into that other person… your time, your energy, your money. That’s why you were so interested in them. You are interested in what you invest in. Are you still investing at least as much into your mate as you did when you were dating? If not, that is likely your easiest fix. Dating doesn’t mean dinner and a movie once a month (although planned dates that require monetary investment are important). Back when you were dating, you likely dated almost every day. Whether it was a 2-hour phone conversation at the end of the workday, sharing a milkshake in the parking lot of a drive-thru, or taking a walk together. That’s what dating meant back then. That’s what dating should still be.

Spend most of your time together in the shallow end.

This one piggybacks on the previous one. When you were first dating, it wasn’t about addressing differences between the two of you or solving financial issues or addressing parenting problems. Those are “deep-end” issues. Instead, it was about getting to know each other better and looking for ways to show acceptance of each other. Most couples who have a lot of problems with each other, spend most of their time together in the deep end. Over time, they have become so fearful of being held under water by each other, they can’t even do the shallow end anymore. On the other hand, most of the deep-end issues begin to dissolve once each begins to feel safe with the other in the shallow end.

No Plan “B”

A marriage on probation will never meet its potential. If you are withholding affection, support, acceptance, respect, honor, for any reason, you are putting your marriage on probation. This means you have a “Plan B” … a backup plan. When you don’t have a parachute, you don’t jump out of flying planes. Instead, you Google “How to fly a plane”. When you don’t have a bridge to retreat across, you fight harder. When you don’t have an alternative to staying married, you love stronger.

You are people of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The mission of Growing Love Network is to “Revolutionize Relationships for Lifelong Love”. That is the movement that our work is about inspiring. We believe that most marriages that fail, do so because of erroneous cultural mindsets and attitudes. Many of these mindsets are not based on data-driven evidence. For example, many believe that sameness or “compatibility” is the key to a good marriage. However, many happy couples are vastly different from each other, while many miserable marriages are made up of two remarkably similar individuals. We believe that almost any couple can have a thriving, fulfilling marriage. Furthermore, if more marriages are successful, the data is overwhelming that we will have: less poverty; less substance abuse; less child abuse, less incarceration; less emotional illness; etc.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Quit Pursuing Happiness!

Happiness requires things, external to me, to go the way I want. So, when I am pursuing happiness, I am engaged in manipulating those things to be the way I want them to be. Most of those “things” are going to be people. People don’t like to be manipulated. So much so, that they tend to resist it. Which, in turn, gives us less of what we want. There are two great paradoxes here: 1) The more I pursue happiness, the less happy I will be. 2) The more I choose joy, especially in my most unhappy circumstances, the happier I will be.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

For decades I’ve imagined having a beer with Bono.

How can our readers follow your work online?

Relationship Rewire podcast — wherever you get your podcasts but also on our website.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple, With Jon and Joanna Anderson of Growing Love Network was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.