Salvaging difficult relationships.

I’m sort of passive aggressive when it comes to conflict. Actually, maybe I’m just passive.

Generally, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by bringing up something they did that I didn’t like, and I tend to get over my own hurt feelings really quickly. Plus, a lot of the time I realize that things are bothering me more because of my own mood at the time and not necessarily because of what the other person said/did, if that makes sense.

I have a whole list of reasons excuses I use to avoid confronting people, but I’m not saying they’re good or even valid!

My main reasoning is this: if I want to have a relationship with someone, I can move past whatever they did/said/etc. If I can’t move past it, I evaluate whether I want to continue a relationship with them.

Sometimes the answer is that I don’t want to continue a particular relationship at that point in my life. Maybe I’m too stressed out. Maybe I’m too busy to put in the extra time. Maybe I need some time away from the person… but removing a relationship from my life is not always a permanent decision.

However, I do have individuals in my life that make this whole thing slightly more complicated. Individuals who I feel the need to keep in my life but aren’t good for me in the slightest (like certain family members). Some people and relationships I just cannot let go of, and it’s never been to my benefit.

In order to learn to better deal with these relationships and also learn more about what forgiveness looks like, I talked to my family pastor at church about relationships and boundaries and what I can do about these ‘tough’ (impossible) relationships.

He had some valuable insight for me, which I thought I’d share with you.

//  Let the person know how what they did/said/etc has affected you.

I’m awful at this. I know I’m awful at this. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than this very thought! I always assume that people know when they’re being really difficult or selfish or rude or whatever. However, my pastor pointed out that this is not always the case. Even in marriage, I assume Tim knows enough about me to not annoy me, but alas, sometimes I need to spell out what he’s doing that’s super irritating! This same thing holds true in other relationships, sometimes people aren’t aware that what they’re doing is hurtful.

//  Clearly state how the relationship with this person would need to look going forward.

Set boundaries for the relationship with the other person and stick to those boundaries. I find written communication works best for accomplishing this step. If the person crosses the line that I’ve laid out, I then need to tell them it’s unacceptable and keep them accountable to what I need and the relationships I define as healthy in my own life. I find this to be very empowering, if not always very effective! If a person can’t respect my boundaries, then they’re deciding they can’t have a relationship with me, and I (at least) know that I did everything I could. This step is very liberating for me, because it gives me an excuse to clearly think about the type of relationship I want and what it would look like, and then communicate this to the other person. This communication seems less personal, because it’s not focusing on the past, it’s focusing on the present and future.

//  Pray for the person.

Really, no matter how much I wish I could change someone’s heart, I just don’t have the power to do it! Sometimes my words aren’t effective and the sad truth is that sometimes a person does not care how their actions affect other people, because they’re too wrapped up in their own life and their own past and pain and guilt and whatever other negative emotions they’re dealing with. So, if this is the case, all I (or anyone) can do for that person is to pray and hope that God changes their heart.

I should mention that I don’t treat all relationships equally. For example, I’m not passive at all when it comes to conflicts within my marriage. If Tim is irritating the crap out of me, I let him know it and tell him specifically why I’m unhappy. My rationale there is that I need to live with Tim each and every day of my life and my marriage is not something I can choose not to be a part of anymore, so I need to treat it a bit differently. Because of this (along with some other factors), I like to think that we have a strong relationship. Maybe some of my other relationships would benefit in the same way if I treated them similarly…

Anyway, I hope this gave you something to think about this lovely Tuesday afternoon, and if you have some unresolved conflicts in your life, I hope you feel a little more inspired to do something about it! Feelings of bitterness and resentment aren’t good for anyone, and they keep us from focusing on the positive in our lives.


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