11/16/2012 12:04 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2013

What Is Intolerable to You in a Relationship?

When I'm working with a client who is looking for a relationship, I often ask them to write down what they want in a partner, and what is not tolerable to them. Frequently, they say to me something like, "Is it okay for me not to want to be with someone who doesn't take care of themselves physically?" or "Is it okay for me not to want to be with someone who doesn't earn as much as I do?"

What I tell them is this: "You have a right to want what you want and to define for yourself what is completely intolerable to you. You need to validate for yourself what you want and what is not tolerable to you."

How did we ever come to the conclusion that it's not okay for something about someone to be intolerable to us in a primary relationship?

The clue to this lies in what I hear next: "Aren't I then being a judgmental person? I don't want to be a judgmental person."

There is a big difference between being judgmental and not liking something in a person. We would be being judgmental if we said, "People who don't take care of themselves physically are bad people." Being judgmental has to do with judging someone as good or bad. You might say, "It is not acceptable to me to be with someone who smokes cigarettes," which is very different than saying "People who smoke cigarettes are bad people."

For some people, the fear of being judgmental stops them from tuning into what they like and don't like. And being tolerant is a trait most of us value. However, it's one thing to accept or tolerate these things in people in general, but quite another thing to choose to be in a committed relationship with someone who has traits that are intolerable to you. The main reason people do this is the hope that these traits will change, which they rarely do. If you are looking for a committed relationship, you have a much better chance of creating a loving relationship if you are very clear on what you want and what is not tolerable to you

Take a moment right now to think about what is not tolerable to you. Here is a partial list of what some of my clients have come up with. There is no right or wrong regarding what you want and what is not tolerable to you, so tune in to what you want and what you absolutely can't live with. Sometimes, a person has many traits that we value and appreciate, and a few that we don't like, but we can live with them. The following list is not so much about what you don't like, but about what is completely intolerable to you.

It is not tolerable for my future partner to:

  • Have a different religion than me
  • Be politically different than me
  • Be a different race than me
  • Have children from another relationship
  • Not want children
  • Want children
  • Have different values than I have
  • Be pro-life
  • Be pro-choice
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Smoke pot
  • Be against medical marijuana
  • Take recreational drugs
  • Be physically ill
  • Earn less than I do
  • Be overweight
  • Be skinny
  • Be short
  • Be very tall
  • Eat junk food
  • Eat only organic food
  • Not care about their looks
  • Not care about their health
  • Not care about their weight
  • Be depressed
  • Get angry a lot
  • Get violent
  • Have been convicted of a violent crime
  • Work at something that is illegal
  • Be judgmental/critical
  • Be sarcastic
  • Be needy and dependent
  • Be overbearing and demanding
  • Always have to be right
  • Be introverted
  • Be extroverted
  • Be insensitive
  • Be closed to learning about themselves
  • Be into personal growth
  • Not be into personal growth
  • Be in therapy
  • Want me to be in therapy
  • Be against being in therapy
  • Not like to read
  • Be addicted to TV
  • Be un-athletic
  • Be a workaholic
  • Not have a high sex-drive
  • Have a high sex drive
  • Watch pornography
  • Be against watching pornography
  • Be self-centered/narcissistic/have entitlement issues
  • Be unkind and dismissive to people
  • Be arrogant
  • Dislike animals
  • Hunt animals
  • Not appreciate art or music
  • Have no friends
  • Live far away from me
  • Not listen well
  • Not be empathic
  • Talk about themselves all the time
  • Have to be the center of attention
  • Gamble
  • Be high maintenance
  • Be addicted to spending
  • Always be late
  • Not call when they say they will call
  • Be messy
  • Be overly neat
  • Be poor at managing money
  • Be in debt
  • Not care about the effect their behavior has on others
  • Be homophobic
  • Not be homophobic
  • Be for gay marriage
  • Not be for gay marriage
  • Be conflict avoidant
  • Not be on a spiritual path
  • Be on a spiritual path
  • Not be on the same spiritual path as me
  • Not be able to express feelings
  • Be in their head rather than in their heart
  • Not be brilliant
  • Be brilliant
  • Dislike their job
  • Not have hobbies
  • Come from a rich family
  • Come from a poor family
  • Not be a college graduate
  • Not be a professional
  • (add your own)

There are certainly more issues -- such as preferences around looks and age -- and I'd love to hear about some of them that I have not listed here. I hope you take the time to explore and value what you want and what is not tolerable to you in a relationship

If you are already in a relationship with someone who has traits that are truly intolerable to you, this is a different challenge. You only have two choices: to learn to accept the behavior, or to leave the relationship. Learning to accept the behavior may entail learning more about why the behavior is important to your partner. You may need counseling to reach this acceptance. While your partner can change the behavior, you cannot make him or her change it. People change when they decide to -- not when someone is trying to have control over getting them to change. Your partner may decide to change out of caring for you or to not to lose the relationship, but frequently this is not the case. If your partner is not interested in changing, and the behavior is truly intolerable to you, then your only choice -- if you are going to support your own highest good -- is to leave the relationship. This is why it is very important before entering a committed relationship to be clear on what is and what is not tolerable to you.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free!

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