Sharing space with difficult people can feel like one of the hardest things we do in life. Here’s how you can improve your toughest relationships starting today.
Stop waiting for the other person to change.
Let’s face it. Some people can be kind of rotten. Demanding. Manipulative. Unkind or unforgiving. But here is one thing for certain: hoping, wishing, and waiting for them to change will not get you anywhere. Neither will hiding from them. Or agreeing to unreasonable demands and then complaining about it to anyone who will listen. Waiting for the difficult person to change is not the way to handle this relationship conundrum. It’s up to us to change the way we respond.
Choose peace over people-pleasing.
Don’t get these two things confused. When you choose peace, you choose to speak up, tell the truth (including using the word NO) and set boundaries. I know these don’t sound like peace-making strategies if you’re wired to please others and hate conflict. But believe me, you’ll be surprised at the results. And you’ll be doing everyone a favor. You might be the only one in the difficult person’s life who is modeling healthy relationship skills. Other friends and family members will thank you for saying what they might all be feeling and thinking.
Expect push back and stand your ground.
It’s not easy to say no and set boundaries. It’s harder still to keep them in place. Especially if you regularly say yes to the difficult person in your life. Or if they are particularly good at using things like guilt or shame or emotional withdrawal to get you to do what they want. It’s taken time (sometimes a lifetime) for the other person to learn that they can count on you to respond a certain way – a way that works for them. Likewise, it will take time for them to learn and believe that you are no longer cooperating with their bad behavior. So commit to the time it will probably take for both of you to settle into this new way of being together.
Recognize that you are the change.
Just like a car engine, only one small thing needs to change for the whole system to shut down and require attention. You are that small change. When you start responding differently, the system (your relationship) will be forced to change. This might involve some awkward and uncomfortable moments. That’s ok. Take ownership and change your part in the relationship. Then allow the other person to take ownership of their part. Don’t try to take it back from them. Don’t try to fix it. You carry what’s yours and allow them to carry what belongs to them.
Trust God with a tender heart.
Remember that the goal is not to damage your relationship with the difficult person but to make it better. Retaliation and rudeness won’t win. Being treated rudely or badly by a difficult person is what started this in the first place. These are the very things you are fighting against. So responding unkindly or emotionally cutting them off is not the way to go (even if every fiber in your body is screaming YES IT IS!). Grace rules. So ask God to keep your heart tender and to show you how to respond in love.
If you’ve been trying to handle a difficult person in your life, remember you don’t have to wait another minute to start changing the relationship. You can start right now by believing that the change is up to you. It’s going to take practice, and it might feel scary. But God is with you. He sees what we don’t, and if you ask Him, he will give you lots of opportunities to demonstrate His love and grace while filling you with the wisdom of His Holy Spirit. So you can improve even the toughest relationships in your life starting right now.