Dealing With Difficult Relationships

Man rubbing his temples looking stressed

Is there a relationship you find very difficult to deal with? Someone whom every time you interact with, you are left feeling like your peace has gone? We have all faced at one time or another a challenging relationship.

I have been privileged to work with all kinds of relationships and blessed with the chance to observe what works and what makes tends to make things inevitably worse. In most difficult relationships that I have seen, one person is typically deemed as the “difficult one.” But, from what I have noticed amongst these challenging relationships, behind what is typically deemed the “very difficult person,” there tends to exist either an “overly accommodating person,” “an avoiding person,” or “an angry reactor.”

Accommodators get the name because they do just that, they accommodate the difficult person. Why? Because it’s just “easier” they say. But is it? “The avoiding person” just disconnects and lives in their own world, paying no mind to the difficult person they co-habitate with, leaving a dull, lifeless relationship void of emotion. “The angry reactor” just simply refuses to do either! Tending instead toward a hostile war ground without a ceasefire.

Which is best you might ask? Well, none of them really. Reason being, with each of these dynamics, the person who is deemed “difficult” never really has reason to look in the mirror. The best case scenario in these set-ups, is that the “difficult person” either gets what they want and becomes increasingly “more difficult” over time or they get a rise out of you and get to point their finger back at your behavior as the reason they are difficult!

What’s left then? How can we operate in best in a situation we find so hopeless? What works? I say, wholeheartedly maintain your “best self.” What do I mean by that? Well, typically the person we find so “difficult” is that way because they are not acting as their “best self.” They might be people who are negative, bitter, easily annoyed, or just down right self-centered. These folks typically lack self-awareness and don’t usually realize just how difficult they truly are. When situations they are in go wrong, they are the first to blame others. They are not easily consoled and rarely accept the influence of others.

If you know someone who you have deemed a “difficult person,” you know how hard it is to remain your best self in that dynamic. After all, being in their presence can foster all sorts of negative emotions and thoughts within you.

But, the truth is, that “difficult person” has a narrative or story behind their difficult nature. I challenge you to stay true to your values and your best self. Don’t let them win, by “pulling“ you in. Try to depersonalize their difficult nature, trust me, they have a deeper story beyond that difficult moment and it doesn’t typically involve you! Attempt to have empathy for their position so that when you do share your observations and feelings (and I encourage you to do so) it comes from a place of love and concern rather than hate and disdain. Remain who you know yourself to be and disengage when you no longer can be that person.

It may be that this particular relationship is not right for you to remain in, but it also may be that this person you have deemed “difficult,” is really just hurting and doesn’t quite have the self awareness or insight to ask for what they really need. The only way to truly know their story is to stay true to your best self.

Try to resist adding to the toxicity by becoming someone you don’t even like by attacking back or becoming defensive. Rather, know when to disengage or take a time out, always coming back to let them know what you noticed and how you ultimately felt. Follow your feelings with making a polite request for what you need/prefer/would like to see happen, and then make a decision to “move on” so that positive moments that follow can truly be experienced as positive rather than negative because you haven’t let go of what happened last week!  We want the spotlight to stay on the difficult behavior so that others’ may ultimately see their misdoing rather than have the chance to point the finger back at you, all the while never having to look inside.

“Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).