Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tolerance, An Important Relationship Virtue


"It just drives me nuts! She never, and I mean NEVER screws the top back on the toothpaste. I remind her all the time, I plead and beg and rant and rave but she simply won't do it!" Guy tells me in utter frustration in one of our sessions. "You can't imagine how many fights we have about this", he adds. "She thinks that I am being unreasonable, picky and controlling but how hard is it to screw the top back on the toothpaste when you've finished with it?" 
I ask him how these fights usually end."Well, after a fight she stalks off to the bathroom, demonstratively screws the top back on the toothpaste, gives me a dagger look and climbs back into bed”.

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“And then what happens?” I ask...."Well, then she turns her back to me and goes to sleep." So, no romance on those nights?” I query . "No way, after one of those she won't even turn around to say goodnight!"
Guy has surely won the battle …but it would seem to me that has also lost the war!
I often wonder why it is so difficult for most of us to show tolerance towards others. Why is it so important to have things go 'our way', win an argument, a game or a sports competition? Why do we so often have to have the last word? Why do we walk away from a verbal wrestle, thinking: ‘Boy, did I show him’! or ‘Good, I’ve really put her in her place this time!’ Why do we need to engage in a verbal wrestle at all?
The Concise Oxford Dictionary tells me that TOLERANCE means having a disposition to be patient with or indulgent to the opinions or practices of others.
I believe that most people have a strong competitive streak, which may well be part of our genetic make-up but is also strongly reinforced by the society we live in where WINNING IS EVERYTHING.
I suspect that the spirit of competition comes upon us at a tender age. As soon as a sibling appears in our world we most likely begin right there and then to compete for mother’s attention. We’ll feel mightily put out when we realize - somewhere in our 1st year of life - that she has other things to attend to apart from cuddling or feeding US. And so it continues. God help him or her who tries to play with our toys by the time we are 2; claim Daddy’s knee that we believe has only OUR name on it at age 3; show off the pretty dress to Sandy whose dress is nowhere nearly as gorgeous as MINE at age 4; tell Bob next door that “MY daddy is bigger than yours, so watch out!” at age 5.  If we don’t have people in our world who have an  understanding of these dynamics or who are unable to help us balance our natural selfishness (which is a normal part of a child’s growth process) with a level of empathy and sensitivity the competitive spirit simply grows and grows within us.
School forces us into its own competitive mould. If you do well academically, are the prettiest girl or the sportiest boy you get a lot of positive reinforcement! If not, you simply fade into the background. If you are unable to keep up with the majority of kids, happen to have a wart on your nose or suffer the great misfortune of being covered with acne you’ll most likely be the butt of cruel jokes. If you’ve been subjected to years of this type of treatment, by the time you reach adulthood you will have absorbed tens of thousands of demeaning messages, and chances are high that you have come to the following conclusions: 

If I am not a winner I must l be a loser; 
‘If I don’t conform, I just don’t fit!”
“If I don’t perform to some external standard, I’m a failure!’
’ 
“If I don’t get the first, they’ll get me.”
So then, given all of that, is it any wonder that being tolerant of others is pretty difficult? ??
Not really! 
But easy though this is to understand it needs to also be noted that intolerance is incredibly tough on our relationships and can be an absolute deal-breaker.
Going back to my earlier example: How important is it REALLY that the top of the toothpaste is replaced after each use? Who dies if it isn't? 
Why make such a big deal out of something so insignificant? ?
IT’S ANNOYING!!
Sure but so what? Could it be that some things Guy does annoy his partner too? Of course, and if she unpacks everything she can't stand about him at those times when he has a 'go' at her, the two of them can have a really good fight OVER NOTHING!
Am I saying that you shouldn't try to rectify those idiosyncrasies that drive your partner nuts? Not at all! I am suggesting though that you don't get your knickers in a knot over some habit, personality quirks or other expression of your partner's need to retain a bit of themselves in the relationship because IT SIMPLY ISN’T WORTH THE FIGHT.
Think about it - what might happen if you showed a bit of tolerance? 
How would it be if you lost the occasional battle?
I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself why you feel the way you do each time intolerance strikes. If you do this chances are that you’ll find your feelings have little to do with the current circumstance but are deeply rooted in an earlier time of your life. 
* Perhaps you didn’t have a voice as a child and simply had to ‘shut up and put up’ with whatever you were told to do? 
* Maybe you were bullied at school and made the decision right there and then that no-one would ever do this to you again? 
* Could it be that you swallowed a lot of things you might have liked to have said to someone who held a place of significance in your life but never did for the ‘sake of keeping the peace’?
There could be 1001 reasons hiding in your past that may be responsible for why you feel particularly intolerant now. Be sure that you explore this possibility and do whatever it takes to get rid of any destructive baggage that you carry with you from the past. If you don’t you can be sure that your unresolved issues will continue to have power over you and will not only make your life a misery but also the lives of those you love.
Once you’ve discovered why your tolerance level is so low and have released the emotions that belong to a different time in your life, you will find the following hints much easier to implement:
* Every so often be sure to let others enjoy the pleasure of being right. 
* Pick your battles wisely. 
* Don’t major on things of minor importance. 
* Always give others the benefit of the doubt.
* Remember that people are imperfect.
* Recognise that YOU ARE IMPERFECT TOO …....and realize that the world won’t come to an end if you get things wrong every so often!

Friday, October 7, 2011


In the early stages of a couple’s relationship when their greatest desire is to spend as much time as possible together and melt right into each other if only they could - as described in the togetherness article - they may find the concept of separateness difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding or an inability to appropriate this concept can set the couple up for a co-dependent relationship. This basically means that they become so entangled emotionally that they lose a healthy sense of self. As co-dependence is a breeding ground for control and manipulation (whether subconscious or otherwise) as well as confusion, resentment and anger, recognising the necessity of separateness in a couple’s relationship is vitally important.
A true and lasting love can only be based on a foundation of freedom. SEPARATENESS is just as important for the healthy development and maintenance of a couple’s relationship - whether that be a marriage, a de-facto relationship or any other love partnership - as is TOGETHERNESS.
INTERNAL SEPARATENESS: 
In order to understand what internal separateness means we need to have an understanding of what it does not mean. 

Internal separateness DOES NOT mean
• Behaving as though you weren’t married. 
• Making independent choices of a significant magnitude. 
• Treating your partner as though his or her wishes do not matter to you. 
• Ignoring or disregarding your partner’s needs. 
• Being selfish and uncaring. 

Internal separateness DOES mean: 
• Understanding and accepting that you carry full responsibility for your own thoughts, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, values and behaviours. 
• Understanding and accepting that your partner carries full responsibility for his or her thoughts, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, values. 
• Understanding and accepting that you cannot change another person, not even your partner. 
• Giving up on trying to change your partner. Understanding and accepting that each partner carries full responsibility for their own internal wellbeing draws an all-important boundary between a couple that enables each one of them to work 
on their individual shortcomings rather than wasting their precious energy on attempting to change their partner. 

Example: 

Marianne screams her frustration at Simon: “It’s your fault that I am so angry all the time! If you didn’t take your son’s side in everything but listened to me for once, I could be happy for a change.” 

Does her frustration sound reasonable? Absolutely! Will her behaviour achieve the desired results? Not likely! 

Let me explain: 

Marianne sees Simon’s behaviour as the problem because she believes that if he listened to her and supported her in her relationship with his son she would no longer feel angry. This is totally understandable. However, Marianne does not recognize that she cannot change anyone’s behaviour other than her own and so, blaming her husband for HER feelings isn’t going to get her anywhere other than (eventually) the divorce courts. How much better would it be if Marianne decided to take responsibility for her own feelings and reactions and would say something along the following lines: 

“When you don’t listen to my side of the problems your son and I have been having, I feel really helpless because it doesn’t seem to matter to you what I say. When that happens I feel hurt and totally powerless, because I just don’t know how else to tell you what’s going on for me. For me to be happy in this relationship I need to feel valued and loved and that can only happen if you listen to me and try to understand my point of view, too.” 

Communicating in this way, Marianne takes responsibility for her own feelings whilst at the same time, without blaming, letting Simon know how his actions are impacting on her and what she needs from him in order to feel safe and happy in their relationship. Approaching their difficulty in this way ensures that Marianne does not violate Simon’s boundaries, that she retains her own integrity yet gives Simon all the information he needs in order to make helpful choices. Remembering that true love can only be rooted in freedom, giving a choice is of vital importance. Because Simon now does not feel 
manipulated, controlled or treated like a little boy who needs to be told what to do, he is far more likely to change his behaviour to one that is more conducive to a happy love relationship than he would be if he felt coerced or manipulated. 

Respecting our partner’s boundaries also helps THEM keep their self-esteem intact and to feel truly valued and loved. It helps US recognize that WE ARE NOT at the mercy of our partner’s behaviours, but have the RIGHT TO MAKE CHOICES that are appropriate and healthy for us. It gives us permission to say “no” to something we don’t agree with, approve of or aren’t wholeheartedly prepared to do. It also gives our partner the same rights and privileges. 

EXTERNAL SEPARATENESS: 

The freedom to retain our individuality (not having it resented, ridiculed or quashed) also allows us to continue doing the things we love but in which our partner has no interest. For instance, if you enjoy ballet (like me) and your man (like mine) would much rather endure all kinds of torture than sit through Swan Lake, this does not mean that you have to give up your love for ballet! It just means that you have the wonderful opportunity to call a friend who shares your passion and with 
whom you can make ballet concerts your special girl’s nights out. If your partner enjoys a blokey get-together for footy grand finals (which are of no interest to you), it doesn’t mean that he has to give up on this pleasure for your sake. You can hate it all you like whilst respecting that this is something he enjoys. With this in mind, why not stock up the fridge with his favourite beer, wish him a great night and vanish to your bedroom with a good book or use the opportunity to catch up with a friend. 

Individual differences, preferences, likes or dislikes will only have the power to diminish your love for each other if you give them that power. If you decide that these can, in fact, be the very things that make your relationship more interesting and more colourful, then you can see them as empowering and positive.


I trust that this post (together with the previous one) provides a useful illustration of the importance of both, TOGETHERNESS AND SEPARATENESS. Clearly, only a couple who trust each other can have true togetherness and the kind of separateness that enhances a love relationship. This demonstrates how vital it is to a healthy relationship that couples have all essential building blocks in place, as one or just a few of them simply cannot provide the type of foundation that promises to withstand the storms of life they are certain to encounter throughout their relationship journey.