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Vive La Difference!


“Live and let live” was one of my mother’s mottos–a laissez faire, nonjudgmental ideal for relating to others. Clearly, each of us is challenged daily in dealing with people’s differing personalities, beliefs, values, interests and so forth. Given our often-vast array of individual differences, how can we be compatible and respectful of our partners in long-term relationships?

I distinguish between three mindsets or postures, each of which I believe occurs in every healthy relationship:

  • tolerance
  • acceptance
  • honor

Red lightYou can probably cite several of your partner’s traits (hopefully not a litany of them) that you definitely disapprove of, yet simply need or choose to put up with. Tolerating attitudes, behaviors, feelings and desires that you find distasteful regularly tests your capacity to accommodate and persevere. Repeated failure to adopt tolerance generates frequent or intense relationship conflict, resulting in mutual unhappiness or breakup. A strong disclaimer is in order here! It’s very unhealthy and ill-advised to tolerate chronic dysfunctional and harmful behavior, such as:

1)physical, emotional/verbal, and/or sexual abuse

2)prolonged detrimental addictions, e.g. substance abuse or gambling

3)expression of hatred and bigotry

Often, these kinds of destructive behaviors represent red lights or deal-breakers in a relationship.

AcceptanceA posture of acceptance is a step above mere tolerance. Acceptance usually involves a conscious choice to allow your mate’s yellow-light characteristics that you find unfavorable, but not highly disagreeable or off-putting. Acceptance typically affords a greater amount of inner peace than does tolerance. Acceptance typically entails recognizing and having patience and compassion for your partner’s differences and idiosyncrasies.

The most respectful of the three mindsets regarding individual differences is honoring them. Actually, it’s a no-brainer to honor qualities or virtues that you truly appreciate in your mate. What’s noble is a heart-set that accompanies an attitude of admiring those traits and interests in your beloved that are foreign to you. Couples that genuinely honor each other’s uniqueness and diversity tend to exceed compatibility. They often have strong, deeply loving relationships.

Your relationship coach,

Jim Sharon

Jim SharonJim Sharon, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist in private practice, has served as a counselor for over 40 years. He attained his life coach certification in 2001 and has received additional training in spiritual direction. Since 2014, he and his wife, Ruth, have specialized in coaching committed, devoted couples to significantly enhance their relationship. Jim and Ruth were voted best relationship coaches in Colorado in 2015 and 2016. Jim has previously served as a business and agency consultant, presented at state and national psychological conferences and has appeared on many radio and TV shows. He is the author of two books and many professional articles.


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