Knock off the family fights

Just a little tolerance towards members of your family can make living with them so much easier. and happier

Within two years of marriage, Mala and Rakesh found themselves sitting in front of a marriage counsellor, making a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. Their relationship had started floundering after just three months of their marriage.

Rakesh found it hard to accept that Mala disliked cooking, wanted to eat out every weekend, and was not really passionate about keeping a good house. Mala, on the other hand, felt ‘suffocated’ by Rakesh’s ‘old-fashioned’ expectations, despite the fact that she herself was a working professional.

They both found it hard to tolerate each other’s shortcomings, and these seemed to become greater and greater with every argument they had.

One of the key reasons why the structure of the family unit is crumbling at its very foundation is because people today no longer demonstrate tolerance toward each other. Our grandparents told us that families were founded on patience and tolerance. However, tolerance is an unfamiliar word in the dictionary of today’s generation. And, with good reason.

Increasingly, our society has been egging us on to focus upon ourselves—our goals, our dreams, our ambitions. While earlier, people were brought up to think of their family first, today’s children grow up on generous doses of ambition and competition.

Increasingly, the ‘We’ is getting replaced with the ‘I’. An unforeseen casualty of this shift of focus on oneself is the institution of family as we knew it. In our search for our identity, we have lost touch with that part of ourselves that needs to connect to others.

We have become so self-centred that we often see only our needs and expectations, and fail to realise that these are intricately tied up with the needs and expectations of others in the family.

So what’s the big deal about tolerance? To answer that question, it is important to understand what tolerance means in the context of the family.

In simple terms, tolerance means acceptance—of the unique personality of every family member; of the differences between them; of their quirky, whimsical, idiosyncratic likes and dislikes. Most importantly, tolerance means acceptance of every family member as he or she is.

Let us look at how lack of tolerance can impact our relationships:

1. Impatience towards another’s flaws

Intolerance makes you impatient toward the flaws of your family members.Rima couldn’t deal with her son Deepak’s poor academic performance, and this made her impatient and irritable towards him. She criticised his study habits and his intellectual capabilities all the time.

2. Inability to understand differences in members

Often, tolerance is created by lack of knowledge. Whatever is known and familiar to us becomes good, and whatever is different creates a sense of disharmony.

Shilpa’s son fell in love with, and got married to a girl from another community. While her new daughter-in-law Juhi made every attempt to establish a relationship with her, Shilpa found it hard to relate to a jeans-clad, fashionable and modern girl who barely knew what a kitchen looked like.

3. Lack of openness to differing perspectives

Increasingly, individuals today feel that their ideas, opinions and approaches are correct and those of others are not.

Deepa could not tolerate her daughter-in-law’s cooking because, coming from a different community, her cooking style was different—or in Deepa’s eyes, completely ‘wrong’.

4. Build-up of conflict and tension in relationships

With intolerance, people feel misunderstood and not accepted in the relationship, and this creates a feeling of resentment and negativity, which, in turn, results in frequent conflicts.

In the above example, Deepa criticised her daughter-in-law Trupti, who retaliated. To this, Deepa criticised some more and the argument escalated.

5. Breakdown in communication

Gradually, over a period of time, communication channels start breaking down, resulting in the erosion of the very foundation of the family structure.

Nancy’s decision to make modelling her career alienated her from her mother, who was highly conservative. After daily arguments, tears and recriminations, it came to a point where Nancy felt it was too much to take any more, and soon, there was no sharing or discussion between mother and daughter. The only communication was in the form of criticism and counter-criticism. Eventually, Nancy moved out of the house.

OK, so we have made a case for tolerance. Does that mean a wife should allow her husband to come home drunk and abuse their kids every night? Or does it mean that you give your children the message that it’s okay to fail in their exams?

Does tolerance mean you agree to do everything your mother-in-law tells you to do? No! Tolerance is not equal to submission. Nor does tolerance mean that you put up with unacceptable behaviours of your family members.

However, what it does mean is that we try to understand these behaviours in the context of their personalities and experience, and then help them see your point of view. Tolerance means being able to discuss irritating habits and behaviours in a calm and patient manner, such that a solution or compromise can eventually be worked out.

Following are some tips that will help increase your tolerance:

Celebrate differences

Each of us is wired differently, and respond to situations in a different manner. The moment you understand this, you will not only learn to tolerate certain behaviours of your family members, you will be able to appreciate the uniqueness they add to the family.

Put yourself in their shoes

When you find yourself losing patience with any of your family members, it will be helpful to put yourself in their shoes and view the situation the way it appears to them. You will be surprised at the difference in perspective. While you may still find the particular behaviour irritating, you will at least understand where it is stemming from.

Acknowledge your weaknesses

Take some time out to think about your shortcomings and flaws. This will give you a chance to appreciate the tolerance that others in the family demonstrate towards you. After all, it works both ways; if you have to adjust and accept certain things, so do others in the family.

Visualise your life without family

When your patience in running thin, try and imagine a scenario where you are completely by yourself, with none of your family members around you. how does that make you feel? For all your irritation and impatience, ask yourself whether you would be happier without your nagging wife or your demanding daughter. Your answer might surprise you.

Reduce your stress levels

Poor tolerance often stems from being overworked and stressed. Find ways and means to de-stress yourself from time to time. This can be done by engaging in a hobby, working out, meditating, meeting up with friends…. anything that helps you loosen up mentally and physically.

Bond with your family

Besides building tolerance, bonding with family can go a long way in helping you stay together as a unit, especially in difficult situations. So go out on weekends, play board games, watch a movie together, play with your kids… anything that the family as a whole enjoys.


One of the best ways to increase tolerance is to communicate your thoughts with your family members in a non-critical manner, and invite them to share theirs. As discussed above, intolerance often stems from lack of knowledge or understanding.

If you communicate with an open mind, and make a genuine attempt to understand and relate to what your family member is telling you, the foundation for an increased understanding is instantaneously laid down.

So, in Mala and Rakesh’s case, this was exactly what their therapist worked on. All she did was encourage them to communicate their perspectives with each other in a calm, non-critical manner.

She further encouraged each of them to be open to the other person’s viewpoint, accept the differences between them, and eventually move toward acceptance of each other’s opinions, upbringing and way of thinking. Ultimately, this resulted in better understanding and tolerance, and they were able to save their marriage.

This was first published in the November 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Samindara Hardikar-Sawant
Samindara Hardikar-Sawant is a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist. She is the director of Disha Counseling Center in Mumbai and is the author of Taming the Tornado: A Parent Manual to Manage the ADHD Child.


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