You Get What You Tolerate

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We Often Hear We Need to Be Tolerant People, But Does That Necessarily Make Sense in a Marriage?


We hear a lot of people talk about tolerance. So, what does tolerance mean by definition?

Tol · er · ance (n): The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

To have tolerance, then, should be a good thing, right? Someone who can tolerate a lot of disagreeable behavior might be a great partner, but there is a catch!

Band-Aids Don’t Fix Bullet Holes

A popular quote says, “In life, you get what you tolerate.” You might ask yourself, “If I’m not supposed to be tolerant, then what?” Tolerance focuses the conversation around how to deal with the bad; but it does not talk about how to eliminate the bad.

In the book Boundaries in Marriage, Dr. Henry Cloud states, “In an imperfect world, imperfection will always seek you out, and if you tolerate it, you will certainly find all of it that you can handle. Unpleasant things seek the level they are allowed to exist in your life, especially in marriage.” By that logic, if you tolerate poor behavior, you might be opening the door to allow poor behavior.

Think of it this way. Would you fix a bullet hole with a band aid? (Yes, Taylor Swift just popped into my mind.)


Rather than focus on tolerating poor behavior in a relationship, focus on what matters—value. Ultimately, what you value is what you will have. Maybe not today, but if you value something in a relationship, you will not tolerate anything that destroys that value. More importantly, you will do everything to remove behaviors and characteristics that prevent that value from governing.

Your values become the definitive identity of your marriage.

An Example in My Life

Tolerance in Marriage. My spouse is often a little late. I know she doesn’t mean it, but it bothers me that she does not recognize how important it is to me that we be on time. It isn’t too bad, so I don’t bring it up very often. When I do, she always has an excuse.

Value in Marriage. We value each other’s time. Quality time together is precious. We will actively seek to ensure the value of our partner’s time is our highest priority.

Do you see the difference? When both parties concentrate on the value, they will not tolerate behavior that would destroy that value. Your values make sure that certain bad traits are removed from the relationship and replaced with positive behaviors.

The next question is, “What are examples of good values?” That will be our next discussion. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not what you think!)

What did you think of this topic? Comment below!



This post comes from one of our guest relationship bloggers and the contents are not based in research or validated by the Relate Institute. Dr. Brian Willoughby, marriage and family expert here at Relate Institute, shares his formula for a fairytale here.

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