5 Top Tips for Transforming Difficult Relationships
Something transformative happened the other day.
Some weeks ago I met my friend Jenny who was reeling from an argument that she had had with her ex husband in which he had declared that he was not going to increase the maintenance payments for their two children. During our conversation over coffee she called him just about every name under the sun and bemoaned her single, financially challenged existence. I could see the anger and negativity drawing her down into a dark vortex as she turned from carefree to careworn in the space of a week.
Some time later I was out with her in a bar when a young man approached her. She looked startled but pleased to see him. It was someone whom she had not seen for a while. She and her ex husband had provided the young man with a home when he was leaving care and her husband had helped him get into college and make a life for himself. As he was leaving the bar he said ‘tell your husband that I will never forget how kind he was to me when I was stuck.’I saw the words visibly soften the look on my friend’s face as she smiled at him warmly.
The next thing she did surprised her. She went home and told her children what the young man had said about their father and they both lit up. In doing that she had allowed her children to see that she had overcome her hostility towards him and that she had transformed her anger into forgiveness. She had not told her husband about what the young man had said but she did not have to. It was about her own journey to forgiveness and her passage out of hate and negativity.
This story shows that seeing the good side in someone can transform your attitude towards them. Managing difficult relationships is not easy but here are five top tips to help you overcome your anger and adopt a more positive attitude.
1. RECOGNISE THAT PEOPLE CAN BEHAVE BADLY BUT THAT IT DOES NOT MAKE THEM A BAD PERSON
When someone does something that profoundly upsets or hurts us or which comes across as rude, selfish or unkind it is easy to wallow in anger. The anger can colour our perception of the other person, making them appear like a monster in our minds. We think that the person is selfish and unkind rather than their particular behaviour or their tendency to behave in certain way. The truth is, most people are a mixture of good and bad. I know that I can be arrogant and selfish at times but that I can also be kind and generous. Recognising the shadow sides of yourself can help you recognise that we all have them. No-one is perfect. One of the first steps towards repairing a relationship or forgiving someone is to recognise that they have both good and bad parts and to recall their good deeds as well as their bad. If this is a former partner, you will be able to recall that there would have been aspects of their nature that you fell in love with.
2. LISTEN TO THEM INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON YOUR PAIN
Listen to the other person when you communicate so that you can empathise with them. This is a very hard thing to do. To listen openly to someone is a form of generosity. It is hard to give to someone whom we feel is taking from us. However it is necessary so that we can understand where they are coming from rather than drawing our own (often wrong) conclusions about their motives. If you let your thoughts follow your emotions, your mind will have you believe that they are selfish, that life is unfair and that you are morally superior to them. All of that may be true but getting caught up in those feelings and beliefs does not help you to feel happier or to move on.
Ask yourself: what is behind the other person’s behaviour? Has that person got different priorities now? Does that person have a false belief about you that is making them act in a certain way (for example, an ex husband may be loth to part with his hard-earned cash if he believes that you are going to spend it all on a prada handbag rather than on your kids). The only way that you can dig deeper is by open communication.
When you communicate with the other person, listen openly and without judgment or expectation. All too often, when in conflict with someone, we do not listen to what they have to say as we are defensive. We squirm at the thought of being open with them. We are too busy wanting to communicate our positions and make our points (or score points!). Quite often in those conversations there is no constructive communication as no-one listens to each other. Listen and be open and willing to hear what is going on for the other person. Ask for what you want by all means but make sure that you do it neutrally and assertively rather than aggressively.
3. KEEP FOCUSED ON THE END GAME
Try and have a goal in mind to help yourself to keep focused on working at the relationship. Is it the need to parent children together? Is it the need to continue working together? What is the best outcome that you could hope for, even if it is one that you would not expect or which seems to good to be true? Is it for your children to see you talking to one another about their best interests? Is it that you go into work and enjoy spending time with your work colleagues every day? What is the best possible outcome if you work at preserving the relationship?
4. FORGIVE YOURSELF AND THEM IF YOU END UP NOT SEEING EYE TO EYE
People trying to patch up broken relationships can often go through a good patch where they get on OK before everything descends into arguments and crockery-throwing. That is ok. Do not be hard on yourself for this. If there is a history there may be past hurts that lie buried deep and often come to the surface in the form of ‘you always walk away from responsibility; you did that all the time in our marriage’and other such accusatory generalisations. The same may be true of the other person and their attitude towards you. Yes: believe it or not, just as you may be feeling hurt by their past conduct, they may also have feelings of past hurt and resentment towards you. They may also find working at the relationship hard. Be compassionate to their struggles too.
It is easier to cross your arms, button your lips and stop communicating with someone for fear of confrontation and the resurfacing of old wounds. However if you keep your goal in mind and congratulate yourself for at least making an effort to communicate and keep a difficult relationship going, you can improve your resilience. There is always another time to talk if you feel the conversation is not going anywhere.
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS AND THEN LET THEM GO
Conflict causes stress and anger. Be very aware of your emotions and how they make your body feel. Anger makes your body feel dense. Happiness makes your body feel light and energised. Most people would probably agree that as human balls of energy it is better for us to be in the happy state so we can be healthy, vital, productive and more generous to others with our time and energy. However we can’t be happy all the time and we have to acknowledge anger when it arises. If you are angry, actually feel it in your body before your thoughts start to kick in. Then let it go. It will soon pass on.
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