Relationship Help: Why Patience is a Marital Virtue

Create a healthy marriage/relationship by learning the skill of patience

Patience is a skill you (and your spouse/partner) need if you want a healthy, fulfilling marriage/relationship.  Patience is the ability to deal with any experience that does not work out in your favor and therefore elicits strong feelings. Just think of the young child at Toys R Us who starts screaming and collapses to the floor when his parents refuse to buy him the latest toy. This is an example of someone with no patience.

We all have to learn to deal with frustrating situations–this is a hallmark of maturity. But the truth is some of us are better at this than others.


While your marriage/relationship is likely to feel harmonious and easy at times, you’ve probably noticed that relationships require some elbow grease and part of the work that goes into making a relationship healthy involves practicing the skills that increase patience.

Lacking the skills required for greater patience can hurt your marriage/relationship, since mounting frustrations will cause you to be overly reactive toward your spouse/partner and the inevitable challenges that are part all committed relationships.

Teach Yourself Patience

A quick side not on what doesn’t usually work: Telling an impatient person to “be patient.” This is often futile if they’ve never learned the skills that lead to patience (it’s like telling someone who’s never been in a pool before to “swim!”).

Patience doesn’t have to be something mysterious.  It is a learned skill (learned from your parents, caregivers, teachers and family). This is good news because you’re never too old to learn new skills.

Today we will briefly examine one way to become a more patient spouse/partner: the link between your thoughts and your ability to increase your patience quotient.

Thought Monitoring

Thought monitoring occurs when you focus your attention on the thoughts that run through your mind. The goal here is to become more mindful of the types of thoughts that interfere with your ability to be patient.

The way you think is directly related to your level of patience–your thoughts filter that outside world in ways that will either enhance or handicap your ability to deal with marital/relationship challenges.

The psychologist Albert Ellis identified a particular kind of thinking that can lead to big hurdle to patience: Holding onto the mindset that certain events “should” or “must” be a certain way—or that your spouse/partner should act based upon your expectations.

When you think in such extremes (e.g., “My marriage should make me happy”; “I must be the perfect wife”), you set yourself up for considerable disappointment and frustration, since you ultimately don’t have control over how your partner will behave or react to you.

Relationship Help: How can you Use this Information?

1. Increase your mindfulness of thoughts that block patience

Whenever you encounter a situation that you find extremely frustrating, turn your attention to the thoughts you’re having about the particular event. Don’t confuse your thoughts (your perceptions) and the objective event.

For instance, “My husband was being a jerk” doesn’t describe the event, but rather describes your thoughts about the event. The event would be, “My husband refused to help me straighten up the house before my family came to visit.”

Write down your thoughts and look for the extremes in your thinking (e.g., “My husband should…” “Since I help him, he must…” “I shouldn’t have to…”).

Psychologists refer to such thoughts as cognitive distortions because your thinking is not an accurate reflection of events. To look at this from a Buddhist perspective, your frustration is caused by your strong attachment to a particular outcome (e.g., that your partner will act in a certain way).

Becoming mindful of how your thinking impacts your level of patience is an important step. Often, we are unaware of the fleeting thoughts that cause us to become easily frustrated. It may take time and practice to become mindful of these thoughts.

For some, heightened awareness is enough to stop such thoughts from having power over them. But you can add another step beyond awareness:

2. Challenge the rigid thoughts that have a “should” and “must” at their core

Once you’ve identified the extremes in your thinking (the attachments you rigidly cling to), begin challenging this type of thinking and replace these thoughts with more balanced thinking.

You can even repeat statements that can increase your patience.  In our above example of the husband who didn’t help his wife, she might replace the thought, “He should help me when I ask” with:

“I can handle this without his help and I’ll have a great time with my family.”

“It would be nice if he did help out, but there’s no reason he must.”

“He usually helps me. So after my family leaves I’ll check in with him and see if there’s something wrong.”

3. You can also develop a series of affirmations that can help you build greater patience. Such thoughts might look like:

I can do this!
Calm down, this will pass.
Don’t let this get to you, it isn’t worth an argument.
Take a few deep breaths and speak calmly.
I’ve been through worse, I can handle this…

Make the statements relevant to your relationship and the circumstances you find particularly frustrating. Remember, the goal is to give you more emotional control.

When you find yourself feeling easily frustrated, you can repeat these statements to yourself. Have them written down somewhere convenient. When you’re upset you might not be able to think clearly, so it’s helpful to read them at that point. One impatient husband wrote his statements on index cards that he carried around. He’d repeat them each day and after several months of rehearsal this new way of thinking started to become habitual.

You can do this with any situation you find particularly frustrating (like dealing with an unreasonable boss, an impolite motorist, a gruff neighbor).

When you improve your ability to deal with frustrating marital/relationship issues, your relationship will be more resilient and ultimately more satisfying. Practice this skill frequently and before you know it, your patience will grow by leaps and bounds. And patience is often contagious– you may find those around you becoming more patient.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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