Relationships – what to do when things get difficult

Coaching relationships

This is relevant for all types of relationships, whether in or out of work.  It’s been useful for coaching clients struggling with business partners or colleagues as well as friendships outside of work.

Relationships, especially worthwhile ones take some work. As little kids at school, we’re able to put in the work as we see each other frequently, tend to be more upfront and honest when we don’t like what they’re doing, but also when we do like what they’re doing.  Even if we fall out with them, they will be there at school the next day, so we have to make up and get on with it.

As we get older, we learn to be more reserved and feel we shouldn’t say what we really think.  So we put up with some behaviours that we may not like. If the behaviour continues and annoys us, we start to focus only on the bad behaviour.  We forget about all the good things that we like about them and obsess over this thing they said or that thing they did.  We interpret some behaviours that are completely innocent as being expressly carried out to annoy us.  We are searching for fault. We can withdraw and not see them, which makes things so much worse.

Two things should be done here:

  1. Remind yourself why you liked them in the first place, all the fun, all the things you had in common, the positive attributes.   Each time you interpret something they do as evidence that they are annoying, catch yourself and remind yourself that this may not have been annoying before.  It’s so true that “familiarity breeds contempt” and little quirks become big irritations. Don’t let this take over.  Shift your focus back to the good things, take the quirks with a lightness, search for the positive side.
  2. If you can’t find any positives, and think you’re justified in finding aspects of their behaviour annoying, speak to them.  Honestly and openly, put your cards on the table.  Say you value them as a friend / partner / colleague and want to come clean.  If they value you too, they’ll want to make it work, so a frank conversation, thought difficult, can really help.  They may not have been aware of the impact of their behaviour.  They may have something to say about your behaviour! Receive it with and open mind and say you’ll take it on board.  None of us are perfect and it takes two to tango as they say.

Walk a mile in their shoes

We can never truly understand what’s going on for another person until we’ve experienced exactly what they have.  And in reality that will never happen.  So when we make assumptions about what others have said or done, we cannot understand what the context is.  They may be struggling with all sorts of things we don’t know about, they may have had struggles in their past that mean that their behaviour is all they know.  Always give them the benefit of the doubt.  Most people don’t set out to be bad.  Most people are doing their best with their circumstances. 

We see the world not as it is but as we are

(Anais Nin)

Take a step back and realise that everything that happens to us is filtered through our own unique set of experiences.  No-one else in the world has the same exact set.  And so no-one will interpret events exactly as we do.  Keep this in mind when you’re observing behaviour that you don’t find acceptable.  This is only according to your set of filters.  The same goes for the other person – they won’t be seeing things as you are.  

Keep talking and act if you must

Choosing to distance yourself means the paranoia can get loud – the negative story gets more and more extreme and your memory and mind can play tricks on you.  Force yourself to get back into the groove and arrange to see the other person as much as possible.  They will be seeing you as aloof perhaps if you’ve distanced yourself, so it may take a little work to get back in there.  This might mean acting.  Pretending you’re delighted to see them, thinking of kind things you can do, however small to show you appreciate them.  Avoid passive aggressive behaviour and get into the active positive regard.  Seek out opportunities to thank and praise.  This will feel alien and perhaps false to begin, with but it can be a game changer, so if you’re struggling to do this naturally, act for a bit.  It will become natural after a bit.

Don’t let your ego lead

Pride and ego can destroy a great friendship.  Remind yourself of this and get humble 🙂

If you’d like to discuss how coaching can help with perspective and relationships, get in touch.