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Patience and Dealing with Ongoing Problems

By: Shaila Anjum

When is patience enough, too little or too much? What is a healthy balance? You don’t want to get stepped on by your loved ones, but you also don’t want to step on them. The best way to judge when enough is enough can be to assess various surrounding factors such as:

  • Is the behaviour(s) in question a habit they are not really trying to break out of?

  • Are they making an effort? (Maybe just not as fast or as much as you’d like?)

  • Have you voiced your concerns appropriately and discussed amendments that are not being made?

  • Have you tried to put yourself in that person’s perspective and truly hear them out?

As you go down the list of the above questions, you can ask yourself to assess whether someone is really testing your patience or if you’re maybe being too thin or impatient with them. Some of this boils down to my previous article on Effective Communication, and the other half boils down to self-care. Look at it as a sort of trade-off system where you must decide if certain actions are justified and if the battle is truly worth the fight, and at what cost to you?

Evolutionarily (survival of the fittest), we get impatient in order to be able to critically think of the options available to help us reach our goal more efficiently, and possibly reduce costs and increase benefits (Levine, Modica, Weinschelbaum, & Zurita, 2015). However, this is a more tricky process than it sounds. The downfalls of being impatient can include making worse decisions by being impulsive and/or hurting people around you in the process (Stone, 2014).

Psychologist, Dr. Stone has come up with five steps to help us manage impatience (2014):

  1. When feeling any type of stress, the best first step is to always take a deep breath!

  2. Often we feel a buildup of multiple things bothering us at once. Narrow in on one particular frustration.

  3. Assess the cost-benefit and whether the scale tips on one side more, and what factors cause that to happen.

  4. Rationalize if the best option is to find a more efficient method, to change your goal entirely, or to settle with the situation and make your peace.

  5. Whatever you decide in the end, you must learn to come to peace with it.

For example, you may be frustrated with your partner/housemate(s) who leaves the sink full of dirty dishes every night before bed, then heads off to work in the morning before you do, leaving you to deal with the mess in the kitchen. While joking around one Saturday evening and having a good time, you commented on the dirty dishes. Nothing changed. Now you are frustrated and your patience is wearing thin. You approach the dishes and as you are getting ready to do them, you get angry and decide to leave them there. Your partner comes home in the evening and does the dishes. However, you notice the following morning, there are more dishes from dinner the day before!

You could be impatient and impulsive and throw a dish, pick a fight, end your living arrangement etc., or you can proceed with patience.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned that understanding how to deal with patience requires effective communication and a tradeoff between cost and benefit. Though many of us do not like confrontation, passively mentioning dirty dishes during a joke does not count as effective communication and most often will not help you reach your goal. The first thing to do here is have that conversation! Maybe your partner/housemate prefers doing dishes in the evening, but you just end up doing them first? Maybe they would be more than happy to do the dishes as you do or have a chores schedule, but they had no idea this was bothering you to this level. There are several other possibilities that you will never know the true intentions behind unless you have the conversation!

Next, let’s say you do have the conversation, your partner is apologetic and you both devise an alternating dishes schedule but they seem to keep apologizing and leaving you with the mess. Effective communication still applies here. One follow-up is always a good idea. Check in and see if there is something different that can be done. Remember, sometimes we think something will work but it doesn’t. If you have the follow-up conversation, you may come to a different solution that may work out.

Or you may see a pattern developing. If the problem continues, you have a decision to make. This is where we finally do the cost-benefit tradeoff. Now that you have put in all this effort and the problem hasn’t been resolved, you have to assess your options. Maybe you want to find a new roommate, maybe you want to split on a washing machine, maybe this, along with other things are adding up and you’d like to put an end to this living arrangement. How much would all your options cost you - not necessarily in a monetary value, but also mental/cognitive distress and physical labour. Is it worth it? Maybe you do have to make tough decisions, but remember, it’s all in the way you handle it.


Levine, D. K., Modica, S., Weinschelbaum, F., & Zurita, F. (2015). Evolution of Impatience: The Example of the Farmer-Sheriff Game. American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 7(3), 295–317. doi: 10.1257/mic.20130188

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