When a close relative troubles us, do we need to tolerate infinitely?

by Chaitanya CharanJanuary 3, 2017

Answer Podcast

Transcribed and edited byNayanasundari Devi Dasi

QuestionWhen in our close relationships, we find the other person behaving in very troubling ways, often because of being influenced by various kinds of contacts through social media, then we can’t even speak strongly against them because that is seen as an interference in their personal affairs.  And yet how can we tolerate infinitely? What do we do in such situations?

Answer (short)

  • Difficult situations in close relationships can be avoided by having well defined expectations from each other. It is said “good fences make good neighbors”.
  • We can define such fences (or expectations) through mutual discussions, which should happen during times when relationship is warm and cordial.
  • Then with the clarified expectations, rather than making value judgement about the other person, we state the action, express how the action does not agree with the accepted expectation, and then tell our emotions about it.
  • Tolerance is important in a relationship, but there also has to be a balance. Such balance can be achieved by communication from both sides.

Answer (long)

This is a very difficult situation when we feel that people with whom we are bound in a close relationship start behaving unreasonably. It’s very difficult in today’s world to restrict anyone. Because it’s such an interconnected world and there is a whole ethos of everybody demanding their space and freedom. This is also understandable. If someone tries to restrict us, we will also rebel against it. This is one aspect of the situation. The other aspect is that in every relationship there is a certain amount of restriction associated with it. The love in any relationship is a bond. Bond means it connects. What connects also restricts. We cannot have the connection without the restriction. Depending on the extent to which people accept the restriction, to that extent that connection will become deeper. At a very basic level, if two people want to be close to each other, they have to spend some quality time together. That means they may have to say no to some other things. If something is important for one person, the other person also has to spend time in that. If the other person keeps saying yes to other things, doesn’t restrict other engagements, then there is no time spent together and then the connection doesn’t happen.

In a relationship, one basic understanding has to be there. They say that, “Good fences make good neighbors”. Different people may need different amounts of space in their relationships. Even children, as they grow up, the amount of space they need as children or teenagers is different.  So the fences are also not fixed in their position but it’s good if the fences are arrived at with mutual understanding. It’s not that one person makes the demand and the other person just submits. At certain times when things are calm we can sit together for heart-to-heart talks where both parties share each other’s views, likes and dislikes. These discussions are different from routine functional discussions and can take place may be once in a week, fortnight, or month. We should try not to have such discussions when relationship is tensed and people are feeling restricted or neglected.  That way the fence can be decided with mutual understanding.

When there are good fences, one person doesn’t take undue advantage neither the other person feels unduly restricted.  Now in some relationships, people may want a lot of space and that just means that they don’t want a very close relationship.  If that’s the case, and if we are not emotionally dependent on them and as long as they are doing the basic responsibility in their relationship, then we can give them that space and we seek our sustenance, emotional nourishment, reciprocation in other relationships we have. That’s one problem in nuclear families as compared to joint families. In joint families, people get their emotional nourishment from various relationships. In nuclear family, a lot becomes dependent on the spousal relationships. The pressure on that relationship becomes a lot which also can create problems. We cannot be idealistic. We have to be realistic. But realistic doesn’t mean that we are expected to have infinite tolerance. Tolerance is a good virtue to have to prevent an explosion from happening on some minor provocation. But tolerance is not a substitute for balance. Tolerance means the other person is doing something and I am tolerating. But balance means mutual understanding through proper discussion. When both parties arrive at an understanding of where the fence lies, we can move on comfortably in a relationship. Such discussion has to take place sometime or the other.  Once that discussion and agreement is reached upon then one can point out- “This is what you had said and this is not being done”. Such communication should happen not in a fault finding way but in an objective way.

Just imagine, if a teacher is having an exam and the teacher doesn’t tell the students in advance, how many marks you need to pass. The teacher has set the criteria of 70% marks to pass and the student is thinking I just have to get 35% to pass. Then because of lack of clarification of expectations, the teacher says, “You have failed”. On this, the student might react, “Hey but I did well, how could you fail me”? Here, the problem is lack of clearly defined expectations. Had the teacher told, “This is my expectation”, student might say, “This is unreasonable”. The teacher might continue to insist, “No but this is my expectation, if you want to be in my class, you have to get this”. Then the student will decide in advance, “Oh if I have to get 70%, I have to study so much more”.  So if we feel that we are being measured, against a standard that we have never accepted, then it becomes a serious problem.  But there has to be a standard. A teacher cannot just pass anyone and everyone. A student gets 5 marks and he expects I will pass, that cannot work. So if the standard is understood, communicated and it’s accepted, then whatever we speak, is objective, otherwise it’s just subjective.

In a relationship when things are not going right, we tend to become judgmental. “You are very neglectful; you are very irresponsible”. These sorts of categorical, value judgmental statements are very hurting and alienating for people. If someone says, “You are very irresponsible”, it’s a direct attack on my character. Rather than saying “You are very irresponsible”, one can instead say, “You had said that you will do this, but this is not being done. Therefore, it’s difficult for me to avoid the impression that you are being neglectful here”.  Important thing here is, rather than blaming the other person, we should try to communicate with proper reason. What generally happens is that there are certain actions people do and rather than telling them the problematic actions, we tell them the conclusion from that action- “You are irresponsible!!’ –  which immediately makes the person defensive. Instead of that, we tell the action, what is wrong with the action, what was expected, what we had decided, and then we tell how we feel about it. This way the other person also gets a clear understanding, and not just blanket judgement. This way we can try to resolve things and move forward. That’s why Krishna says,

anudvega-karam vakyam (BG 17.15)

One should not speak in such a way as to agitate the minds of others.  I wrote a “Gita Daily” article recently, “Speak to give others peace of mind, not a piece of your mind”


To summarize, if you define the fences properly, understand where the fences are and then have proper communication to reposition the fences when necessary, you have clarified the expectations. Then with the clarified expectations, rather than making value judgement about the other person, we state the action, state how it does not agree with the accepted expectation, and then tell our emotions and feelings about it. Then there can be proper restorative action on that person’s part. To conclude, tolerance has to be essential in a relationship, but there also has to be a balance. Which means it’s not that one person is constantly adjusting and the other person is taking them for a ride. There has to be a both way communication, then the balance can come about.

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Chaitanya Charan

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