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”.
“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? ?
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!