Bend Marriage Counseling: ATTUNEment in Relationships, Part 3—Tolerance

June 17, 2014 by

Take a moment to think about an argument that you had with a friend, family member, or romantic partner in which your opinions or beliefs fundamentally differed. If either you or the person you were arguing with failed to tolerate the other person’s perspective, then you were compromising trust and intimacy in that moment.

It’s these moments—whether it’s something as minor as an argument about taking the trash out or as big as a discussion about where you see yourself in five years—that shape our relationships. Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman refers to these experiences as “sliding door” moments in which you’re given the opportunity to either connect or turn away from your partner. If you want to successfully connect, John Gottman advises applying the ATTUNE model, an acronym that you’ll hopefully recognize if you’ve read the first two parts of my series. For those who haven’t, it stands for Awareness, Turning Toward, Tolerance, Understanding, Nondefensive Responding, and Empathizing.

In this post, I’m going to expand on the 3rd step, tolerance.

Tolerance Is about Being Open, Not Letting Things Slide

I think that tolerance, as a virtue, often gets a bad rap. When we say that we tolerate something or someone, the connotation is often that we’re putting up with something we don’t like because it’s not worth the effort to stand up against it. If this is the way we think about tolerance, it becomes an act of passivity and creates distance between two people.

That’s not the way I want to define tolerance in a loving relationship. In a healthy relationship, tolerance should involve active listening. It’s about being open to the thoughts and feelings of your partner, even if you don’t necessarily share them. Tolerance requires taking a step back from your emotional biases and recognizing the legitimacy of your partner’s viewpoint.

Learning to be tolerant isn’t always easy, especially if you have a competitive streak and view disagreements with your partner as “fights” that have a winner and a loser. In order to become tolerant, you need to change your way of thinking and recognize that it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, it matters how you and your partner approach the issue. When you’re both able to approach the problem with openness and a willingness to understand another perspective, you’re strengthening the trust between the two of you and building a better relationship.

Keep in mind that tolerance is just one part of the multifaceted approach to building trust in a relationship. Check out the first two parts of this series from Bend marriage counseling, Awareness and Turning Toward, to learn more. Look for the next part on Understanding soon.

Contact Tim Higdon MS LPC to learn how to apply all of these concepts in your relationship.