We’re all involved in relationships, and no two are alike. The easy ones bring joy and comfort. The impossible ones may stay for a while, but most of the time they don’t last. The difficult ones may take some work, but we usually feel they’re worth keeping. And each one is there for a purpose, to bring a blessing and/or a lesson. No matter what, our life is blessed by people.
When dealing with those difficult ones it’s wise to first know yourself...to understand your feelings when someone ticks you off. What bothers you and what doesn’t …and why? Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Are you tactful or confronting…quiet or outspoken…judgmental or accepting? What are your fears and insecurities? And what ability or talent can you express to others? You may have valuable qualities of which you’re not even aware. The better you understand yourself, the better you’ll understand others, even the difficult ones. So know yourself first, and then focus on the people in your life.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A person’s behavior patterns are clues that reveal much about them. And difficult people may require closer attention to understand their behaviors. The more you observe and understand, the better equipped you are to deal with them. They may have inner fears or insecurities that cause troublesome behaviors that frustrate or irritate you. Maybe there’s fear of losing control, losing position, revealing weaknesses, or some other hidden fear. Or there may be some emotional pain the person is not comfortable sharing. We all try to protect ourselves in some way, and we may use negative behaviors to cope. We can’t see inside of another person, but knowing and understanding as much as possible may lead to a better relationship.
Everyone is unique with particular talents or abilities, and these become part of who they are in the world. Some can fix problems, some are comforting, some are fun, some give good advice, some are good listeners, etc. But no one is all of these, so we can’t expect anyone to be everything to us. Nor can we be everything to everyone else. But learning a difficult person’s talents and abilities can be used to create a more harmonious relationship.
“Some of the best people with whom you can have a relationship are the people who challenge your thinking.” ~ T. D. Jakes
Years ago when I worked with a mental health team in a jail setting, one Sergeant felt threatened by our presence and always gave us a hard time. So I devised a plan to soften his attitude. I noticed he was organized and had a talent for keeping his floor running smoothly with few problems. So I assumed a subordinate attitude and began complimenting him on the exceptionally good work he was doing. Well, his frown quickly changed as he threw out his chest and smiled with ego satisfaction. From then on, our difficult relationship became one of congenial cooperation. So compliments are sometimes useful in melting a negative attitude.
Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. So if your efforts to create more harmony are not producing results, it may be time to regroup and alter the way you relate to a person. If there’s conflict when you try to discuss deeper personal issues with someone, but it’s absolutely necessary, then do it. But try to generally relate to them on a lighter, more surface level, so as not to step on any thin ice. Avoid areas in which they become defensive. Try to understand where they’re coming from, and help them feel safe with you. But if nothing works, be willing to let them go.
“Sometimes God uses difficult people, like sandpaper to rub the rough edges off us.” ~ Joel Osteen
If you want to keep a difficult person in your life, try to look past behaviors that disturb or irritate. And don’t get caught up in their chaos. There’s good in everyone, even those who come across otherwise. So look for qualities in them that you can enjoy. You wouldn’t want to keep them if you didn’t already see something of value, even something to help you learn and grow. Approach all of your relationships with love and as much understanding as you can muster. You just might find a diamond in some rough exteriors. And their lives just might enrich yours.
I wish you many happy relationships.
Marilyn Fowler, Author of “Silent Echoes” and Writer for “Keys To Recovery”