Ethics in Private Relationships

Private relationships are often given (For e.g. Life partner, Friends) or inherited (For e.g. Parents) that are relatively permanent with more tolerance for imperfections. Ethics in private relationships refers to the basic principles and values that govern interactions with family members, life partners, friends etc. They are based on emotional bonds rather than any formal procedure that regulates them and therefore, informal in nature. This can be best understood from the Life of Karna (A character from Mahabharata) whose friendship for Duryodhan broke all boundaries of even blood relationships since he fought against his own brothers (Pandavas) to honour the Ethics of friendship.

Private relationship – Ethical Principles

  • Care and Affection – Emotional bond of affection and care goes beyond limitations. This bond is not driven by legal rules or quid pro quo but by human emotions. For instance, In Mahabharata, King Dhritrashtra had unconditional affection for his sons despite of their misdeeds and always took their side while being the King of Hastinapur.
  • Fidelity – This is key driver of marital relationship and essence of Ethics of marriage. It refers to being loyal to one’s life partner and avoid sensual distraction or committing adulterous act.
  • Confidentiality – In order to maintain sanctity of private relationships, secrecy and privacy are of paramount importance. For example, we generally restrain ourselves to share secrets of our friend, colleague, life partner etc. without their permission else it would bring disharmony in such relationships.
  • Truthfulness – Truthfulness is the key demand in private relationships. It amplifies the mutual trust and strengthens the emotional bonds in such relationships. For instance, being always truthful helps in avoiding unnecessary conflicts that may arise out of one’s alleged suspicious activities.
  • Responsibility & Accountability – In private relationships, one is bestowed with various responsibilities such responsibility towards child, life partner, parents etc. This requires fulfilling the responsibility towards them and also being accountable to them, in case of non-fulfilment of responsibility.
  • Tolerance and acceptance of minor imperfections – Human beings can never achieve perfection thus there is bound to be conflict in private relationships in absence of any prescribed rules and regulations. Therefore, one must accommodate the imperfections of others to bring peace and harmony in such relationships. For instance, your wife is quite introvert in public interactions, you being a civil servant doesn’t like this but tolerate it for peaceful marital life.

Source of Ethics in private relationships

  • Divine command and Religion – Those who are religious and theist accept Divine commands and follow them in their personal life to please god in order to attain salvation. For example, Ten Commandments (of Bible) is the source of guidance for Christians for their behaviour with family, neighbour and society at large.
  • Individual experiences (Intuition and Emotions) – Even intuition and emotions are quite crucial in understating the proper behaviour towards private relationships. For example, Emotion of love and care are naturally inclined towards our family which doesn’t need any social conditioning.
  • Social conditioning – Some of the values are also learned from environmental factors that influence human being such as Family, peer groups, society etc. For example, Child learns from his parents – How one should behave with elders in the family.
  • Law of the land (Constitution) – Some of the ethical principles are governed by legislations and constitutional values. For example, not outraging the modesty of women is a Fundamental duty under Indian constitution. Similarly, Adultery though now legal to commit but it can cited as the reason of divorce. Thus ensuring fidelity in marital relationship has legal directives.

Relation between Ethics in Private and Public relationships

The distinction between ethics in private and public relationships is a dubious one because both in public and private lives, one has to live by some of the common ethical values. A person who is unethical in his public life can hardly be expected to be ethical in his private life and vice versa. For instance, A dishonest civil servant is least expected to show integrity in his personal relationship.

Ethics in public life places a greater responsibility and is more demanding and application of personal values in determining the ethicality might turn out to be dangerous. For example – You, as civil servant, opine based on your personal values that women should not be allowed into Sabrimala temple but your professional ethics compels you to follow the decision of Hon’ble Supreme court.  Thus, sometimes we should separate our personal ethics from public ethics.

Separation of public and private relationships

Need of separation

  • Domain of influence – Domain of both the relationship is completely different. It is important that neither private relationship should impact public relationship nor vice versa. For instance, Conduct of civil servant should not get affected if he fought with wife before coming to office. Similarly, his discontent due to his public work should not get manifested while having conversation with wife. This is pre-requisite to maintain the sanctity of both the relationships.
  • Conflicting roles – Domain of these relationships are not always in harmony but sometimes, they are in the conflicting position. For instance, Mahabharata war happened as a result of King Dhritrashtra conduct of mixing public relationship with private affairs. He behaved more like a father than a king throughout his life.
  • Potential conflict of interest – Avoiding conflicts of interest situation is one of the Public service values. This requires strict separation of professional and personal life else civil servants might be charged with nepotism, favouritism etc. even though he never made any favour.
  • Divergence of values – Public relationship demands openness where private relationship is governed by the value of confidentiality. For instance, Personal life of public figures should not be put public scrutiny else it causes mental agony. This can be related with Dr Shashi Tharoor life when his wife died under mysterious circumstances, people started coming with bogus stories and charged him with abetment of suicide. Recently, Court has given him clean chit.


  • Areas of Convergence – Though there are some areas of convergence in spite of separate domain of influence. For instance, in western countries, conduct of politicians in private life greatly affects their political career. For e.g. – Barack Obama relationship with his wife, Bill Clinton-Lewinsky controversy.
  • Rigid separation – This may turn out to be counter-productive since these relationships can be used to enrich each other. For instance, value of affection and care learned through private relationships can be used to give humane touch in public dealings.
  • Shared values -Some values are shared or common to both the relationships. For instance, integrity and compassion are common values to both the relationships.

Effect of private relationships on public relationships


  • Positive attitude – Harmonious relationship in private life is the source of positive attitude for public servants to effectively engage in public life. This attitude helps in going beyond the call of duty to honour the spirit of Public service.
  • Emotional bond – Emotional bonds that we share in private relationship can be leveraged upon to give humane touch in public engagements. For example, a District Collector who is loving and caring in personal life is also likely to show compassion towards poor and needy in his official role.


  • Troubled relationship – Troubled personal relationships adversely affect behaviour of civil servant in public sphere. Thus, healthy private relationships are a basic need, in order to have good public relationships. For example, Training courses are provided to manage work-life balance
  • Biasness – Our communication in private relationship is more often biased or prejudiced which sometimes gets reflected in our public engagement. For instance, Civil servants from patriarchal family often have stereotypes with respect to their female colleagues.

Effect of public relationships on private relationships


  • Motivation – Public service values motivate civil servants to implement the desirable elements of such values in private relationship. For instance, Civil servants uphold democratic values in letter and spirit in their public engagement, this helps them to rear their child through Democratic Parenting.
  • Induction and Training – Civil servants are trained in way to become vigilant and responsible citizen of the country. This responsibility pushes him to oppose social evils being practiced in private relationships. For example, not accepting Dowry from in-laws or opposing practice of dowry at home.


  • Spill over effect – One’s misconduct in public relationship slowly getting reflected in personal relationship. For instance, Public servants who lacks integrity at work place are generally bound to be unfaithful to their life partners. They are found to be engaged in adulterous act. Think about corrupt politician and bureaucrats whose sex scandals came into public domain (Bill Clinton – Lewinsky sexual scandal).
  • Work Life Balance – Even excess involvement in public life doesn’t go well with private relationships. You might have heard about civil servants ending up marital relationships on the pretext of paucity of time for partners or work priorities, in turn, not able to bring harmony between personal and public relationships.

Shared ethical elements in public and private relationships

  • Truthfulness – Being truthful is the basic demand in both the relationships in order to maintain the integrity of relationship. For instance, civil servants must be truthful to his life partner to maintain fidelity in marital relationship, in addition being truthful political masters and citizens helps one to earn reputation in professional life.
  • Altruism – Being altruistic is highly desirable in both public and private relationships. For instance, civil servants are expected to be compassionate in public engagements, in addition this virtue helps one to give patient hearing to the needs of loved ones.
  • Dedication – This is crucial in order to avoid inner conflict. For instance, being fully dedicated to life partner helps one to avoid adulterous act and in public sphere, restrains civil servants to engage in corrupt activities and honour spirit of public service.
  • Accountability and Responsibility – Taking responsibility of one’s action and being adequately answerable for the act of commission and omission is the shared values of both relationships. Upholding these values boost trust and confidence among the stakeholders. For example, civil servants are hold accountable and responsible for sexual harassment in both the relationships, be it done at home or workplace.
  • Interpersonal relationships – Interpersonal communication improves the quality and productivity of relationship at both personal and public level. This is very crucial in order to maintain Work-life balance. Inter-personal communication helps civil servants to make her partner understand the nature of public service, in case his partner is unhappy with him for not spending quality time with her. Similarly, this helps in holding communication with subordinate staffs to make them feel special and unique.

As we know, relationship is an inescapable necessity in our life since our personality is the mere manifestation of how we manages these relationships. For instance, personality of a crook is nothing but the troubled relationship, he shares at personal and societal level. Thus, there is a need to manage these relationships in proper manner by upholding concerned ethical principles as discussed above.

Generally, People think that personal and public relationships are diverging in nature and must have different standards to practice but we have the problem with separation. Even Mahatama Gandhi disagreed with this viewpoint. He held that, conducts of public servant should be open to public scrutiny since they are devoted to the profession of public service barring few intimate relationship such as Relationship with life partner. This doesn’t mean that his adulterous conduct is beyond public scrutiny.

However, excessive public scrutiny is also not feasible. We have recently seen controversy surrounding Cine actor Sushant Singh Rajput Case wherein his girlfriend conduct was subjected to media trial. Though she is a public figure but we have to self-examine, to what extent her personal relationship should be scrutinised in public domain.

This requires to strike a balance between public and private relationships instead of seeing them as mutually exclusive domains. Ethics principles governing these relationships should be leveraged upon to enrich our relationship at both levels.