Do You Know Your Tolerance Level?

She brings him a mug of coffee and says, “How’d you sleep?”

He says, “I slept great.  How ’bout you?”

She says, “How can you sleep with that incessant dripping coming from the bathroom sink?”

He says, “That bugs you?  I can hear it but I just roll over and go back to sleep.”


He golfs, hunts, fishes, shoots skeet, coaches baseball, and volunteers at the church.  If he could fit it in, he’d take on one more hobby if it guaranteed he wouldn’t be home at all.  Not being home is easier than listening to her berate him about how he never cleans the garage, the lawn looks like hell and the neighbors’ yards are so much nicer.

He tolerates the nagging because he’s afraid of being alone.

He’s too busy coaching, swinging a golf club and buying fishing tackle to realize being alone would be better.


 She’s not angry with the kids, she just sounds like it.  He’s due home from work any minute.  The toys need to be picked up, the music turned off, dinner on the table, and the laundry put away.  If she could get the kids to put their toys away, she could toss the salad and finish dinner.

She can’t tolerate his complaints about the house any more than he can tolerate a lived-in house.

If the kids would listen to her and pick things up, everything would be fine.

She yells again.  The kids ignore her.

He pulls into the drive.


“Why do you let him talk to you that way?”

She says, “Oh, he’s working on a difficult project at the office.  I know he loves me.  He’s stressed.  He doesn’t mean those things.  That’s how he deals with stress.”

“But he says those words in front of your kids.”

She says, “They know their daddy loves me.  He’ll be much better when this project is finished.”

She excuses herself from the table to talk to her oldest child about the name he called his younger brother.


He has turned coping into a mental game.

She says, “Why did you paint the fence that shade of green?”

He says, “That was the shade you selected.”

She says, “You’re mistaken.  I did not choose that color.”

He says, “Honey, you were standing next to me at Home Depot and pointed at the paint chip.”

She says, “Why do you put words in my mouth?”

In his mental coping game, he counts the number of times she contradicts herself.  He knows he’s lost count, but he has to cope some how.


 She calls to say, “So we’ve taken on a foreign exchange student for the year. Oh, and we got the new puppy I was telling you about. It’s adorable. It’ll be even cuter when it sleeps through the night. That, and I just learned that my parents are coming to stay for a couple weeks. With my mom’s dietary restrictions, meal planning will be difficult. Oh and the office is sending me on another training week. What’s new with you?”

I tell her that we re-stocked the wood pile, spent an afternoon on the golf course and made a messenger bag for Jenny.

She says, “I love your pared down existence. How do you do it?”

I get off the phone feeling conflicted. Either I don’t have the energy level that others seem to have, or I just don’t have the tolerance for all the paces they willingly put themselves through.

My tolerance level is set comparatively low.


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  1. Oh, I am so right with you! I have friends that have 3 kids and each kid in 3-4 activities. I can’t cope with that, and quite honestly, neither can my kids. My middle son was hugely overwhelmed (also an introvert!) when he did both baseball and a club at school. Since then, they can each do one thing, and that’s all.

    Also, I think you make a great point about people filling themselves up with empty things so the real problems are avoided. As an introvert, I sometimes have this desire to lock myself away in a room. But I’m getting better about realizing that the chaos that comes with everyone being home; the noise, the mess, etc. that’s when the real things, the family dynamic comes into play.

    But you have to give yourself credit, Jesse. You homeschool and that’s a big commitment. You are a single homeschooling mom. Pat yourself on the back! ;)

  2. NM,

    Thank you, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. Homeschool is all about systems. Once the systems are in place, and everyone likes the process, it’s not difficult.

    I’m not sewing costumes for the Thanksgiving pageant at 11 p.m. the night before. I’m not scrambling to make 24 cupcakes the day before Valentine’s Day because Will forgot to remind me. I’m juggling what we want to juggle. There’s ease and control in that. ;)

    And thanks. I will pat myself on the back for proudly accepting my tolerance levels.

  3. That busy life style is a difficult merry-go-round to get off. We, too, have always led a pretty “pared down existence”. We, too, have often wondered why we didn’t possess the energy or tolerance to endure that fast paced life. Every once in awhile we would spread ourselves a little too thin and then wonder why we were always in a rush and grumpy. I think it was because we never had time to live in the moment–always on to or thinking about the next thing before enjoying this thing.

    You do a marvelous job with the pace and tolerance levels you have chosen.

  4. Debbie,

    If only we lived closer, we could enjoy that pared down pace together. ;)

  5. This is such a great post Jesse. It reflects a lot of my current day to day structure lately. I feel like I am constantly on the go. There are 24 hours in the day, yet I never seem to have enough time to do all that is needed. What I realize more so lately is that going at a fast pace, only leaves you frustrated and utterly depleted. I take on too much at work, then I bring work home, or dealing with others problems (problems that have been the same, no change). It gets extremely tiring, and leaves me with no room to do the things that really bring me joy. My tolerance level has thinned. The one good thing, however, is I am completely conscious of my tolerance level.

    What I have realized is time is very limited, and once the day is done, you can’t get the time back. This means you need to be conscious of how you choose to use that time. Do I want to be stressed & overwhelmed in my day? Or can I use my time more efficiently? I am slowly, but surely self examining what I need to let go.

    Balance and keeping a healthy tolerance level is essential, yet very hard to implement. I know for me simplicity is a better alternative to how I am living each day currently.

    Jesse I must say you do an amazing job developing healthy structure and balance for yourself and “the troop :)”. I think one’s life can only be fuller for it.

  6. Kira,

    Thanks for writing. ;)

    From my perspective, I believe it may be easier to set those tolerance levels because of the impact on my kids. Trust me on this: when we are over-extended, I get cranky, the tensions mount and I start barking at Jen and Will. I’m not proud of that, but that’s my red flag to rein things in.

    If I lived by myself, I think I’d have completely different tolerance levels.

    Come to think of it, I’d probably be a happy little hermit.

    But seriously, at some point don’t you have to sit back and say, “What am I doing that I WANT to do? What can I say no to? Are all these obligations enhancing my life?”

  7. Its great that we can see the red flags & quickly re shift. It is quite a hard task though. We usually say or act in ways we feel bad about later, because our tolerance levels have reached tipping point. I have to be better about this part. I tend to notice, early on, directly in my body, when my tolerance level is sky high. I am very bad about ignoring the warning signs. Usually there is always an implosion. Then there is usually excessive apologizing, being too hard on myself or sleeping (the kind that last too long). Have you gotten better with noticing catching your red flags early?

    The questions you probe are crucial ones to ask oneself. I definitely plan to incorporate these questions into my daily mantra. We can all benefit from answering these questions, truly being honest in the process.

  8. & the good thing about you Jesse, is you do self acknowledge when you are not in good space, meaning in the midst of the “cranky, tension mounting, barking at the kids”, There is always the period of self awareness, self assessment, redirection and reengagement that I am confident you do extremely well. Your kids are very lucky to have you. Just a reminder.

  9. Kira,

    Thanks for that. I’ll make sure to tell my kids. ;)

    But seriously, this exchange is particularly interesting because at this moment, my niece and nephew are here. They spent the night and all four kids had a blast, and I didn’t get bitchy! (Yay for me!)

    A couple years ago, when I was still figuring out my tolerance levels, I had invited my brother, his wife, two kids and 6 month old black lab to stay with us for a week in our very tiny home.

    Long story short: We all survived and mutually agreed we’d NEVER do that again – even if I should be stupid enough to forget that event and suggest that they stay again!!!

    I had to laugh when you said, “excessive apologizing” because that’s what I heard myself doing for the two months that followed their visit. I had a long talk with myself and decided that if I can’t – with a happy, generous heart – put myself out there and make those kinds of offers, then I SHOULD NOT do it. So many other people can graciously open up their homes, it doesn’t work for me. Blame it on INFJ.

    Bottom line: Now I enjoy their visits by setting my own limits. That doesn’t mean I love them less, that means I love myself as much. And besides, I’m more fun to be around when I don’t over-extend. (Is it any wonder they would never stay here again when I was so cranky the whole time they were here? That’s NO FUN for anyone.)

    It took awhile to learn those limits. Now I respect myself and my limits, and enjoy their visits so much more, and I think/hope they do, too.

  10. Oh, this is all too familiar. I always beat myself up for being cranky and exhausted by the time company leaves, when I should have just set my limits. Thanks for this eloquent reminder that it is ok to say ‘enough already’!

  11. Big yah for you my dear :) !! You indeed survived the sleepover in one piece. I think it’s great you are self aware of your limits, and are able to keep them present. I think it was beyond sweet you offered & let your brother & his family stay with you. I think we offer first and foremost out of love & because we want to spend time with our loved ones. We don’t always think things completely through. I guess it’s all about trial and error.

    I have a good feeling they enjoy their visits just as much as you do now.

  12. Z,

    And sometimes I just wanna say, “I’m dancing as fast as I can.”

  13. Kira,

    That and I wish I could be like those amazing hostesses who make it look so effortless. It’s taken me a long time to get over the fact that that just isn’t me.

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