Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tolerance - The Key to a More Complete Life

The other day my wife, Kathleen, asked me: “I got an email from a gardening blog buddy who lives only a few miles from here. He has a well-written blog, and he’s invited both of us to see his garden Thursday evening. Is that all right with you?”

My first thought was, Heavens no, I don’t want to spend an hour walking around some guy’s garden. I don’t care how cool his blog is. I’m sure he’s done interesting things in his garden, but I have other things I’d rather do.

But my next thought was, if I never stretched out of my comfort zone, I’d read and write all the time, with an occasional movie or sports event on the side. Thanks to Kathleen, who is very different from me, my life is much richer.

So I smiled and said, “Sure. That’ll be fine.”

That evening we spent the better part of an hour walking through this fellow’s garden. It was interesting to see how a different mind does different things with the same challenges we face. Also, it turned out he had a Ph.D. in English and was the most interesting man I’ve met since we arrived in the Hill Country four years ago.

And that’s how it goes being married to Kathleen. We share a lot of things in common. We have identical worldviews, and we share a love of the arts, literature and writing. Also, we have our differences. She needs an active social life. I need peace and quiet and time to myself. She has a practically endless desire to learn more about earthly delights: birds, butterflies, flowers, trees, fish, food and wine. I’m more of a philosopher. My life expands when she pulls me into her world, and her life expands when I share my ideas and sense of order.

This sort of flies in the face of highly publicized dating services like eHarmony that use personality assessments to help you find someone who is a lot like you. They believe it will increase the chances that you’ll get along. The problem is, in the long haul you need more in a relationship than another version of yourself.

I’ll tell you this, if I had to live with someone like me, there would be few conflicts, but we’d be dead in the water. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with someone who has the same limitations that I do.

To me, the smart money is to establish relationships with people with whom you have common ground, but who aren’t like you in many ways. Then refuse to be annoyed by the differences. Instead, tolerate them and accept them for what they are—unique, valuable ways of being. Affirm the differences, celebrate them, and make use of them. If you open your mind and heart when you’re with people who aren’t like you, they’ll share insights, answers and solutions you’d never consider on your own. They’ll introduce you to joys in life that would otherwise be lost to you.

They’ll help make you a whole person.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Photo by Denny Coates)

1 comment:

Paul Breton said...

Hi Denny,

I saw your tweet about this post today and wanted to drop you a comment. I appreciate your reference to eHarmony here, but I think you've misconstrued what we do. In matching people, we're not trying to put people together who are exactly alike. Far from it!

Decades of relationship science literature have shown that people who share common fundamental personality traits, beliefs, attitudes and values -- as you said, similar worldviews and common ground -- are more likely to remain happy together over time. That's how we match people to give them a better chance at long-term relationship success.

Common hobbies and interests, physical attraction, etc. don't predict long-term success as well because these things change and grow over time, as you and your wife have experienced. Couples need that room for their relationships to evolve and breathe; for people to pursue their own interests and share new experiences together. We aim to set people up with a solid foundation so they can grow their relationships in these ways.

If you'd like to learn more about what what we do at eHarmony, you can reach me at

Paul Breton
Director, Corporate Communications