From foe to friend: improving conflictive relationships

From foe to friend: improving conflictive relationships

It’s probably not an inaccurate assumption that most people have at least one person in their life who they have a conflictive relationship with.  It may be a family member, ex-partner, neighbour, acquaintance or colleague.  Things between you can feel intolerable, the mere mention of their name can cause irritation or anxiety.  It seems that your relationship is irreparable and the best thing to do is walk away.

Personally, I could not stand my work colleague, I believed her to be unbearable.  She pushed every button there was to push and then she pushed them all again for good measure.  I dreaded work every day – in  large part due to her.

I tried to reason, I tried to fight back, I tried to poop gold… nothing worked.

I asked my boss to separate us.  We might have to be in the same room, but I could no longer work directly with her.  Things improved slightly when my request was granted, but it didn’t stop the negative feelings that arose or dissipate the tension between us.

She was dominating my thoughts outside of work too.  On weekends, I would replay conversations or events and feel anxious that Monday was on the horizon.

It couldn’t continue but I couldn’t walk away, so I chose to take action.

I drew up two columns; one headed ‘negative relationships’, the other ‘positive relationships’.  I wrote down a list of all the relationships in my life (no matter how big or small) that were happy, friendly and loving.  The negative column was next to empty.  Instantly I could see how I had wrongly been allowing the feelings created by one negative relationship to overshadow the positive feelings I had to gain from the many good relationships in my life.  I worked my way through the names on the positive side of the page and mentally said ‘thank you’ to each one of them.

Whilst this helped me gain perspective, I still had to work out a way to improve the relationship with my colleague.

Although it seemed impossible at the time, I made myself think of things I admired or felt grateful to  my colleague for.  For example, she, like me, was a working mum trying to juggle being the best mum she could to her kids with having a career.  I admired her outfits, her hair, her infectious laugh.  I was grateful for the biscuits she brought in last Thursday.  Clutching at straws in some ways yes, but ultimately I started to feel more caring towards her.

Shortly afterwards, I found her struggling with a project at her desk.  I approached to see if she was OK.  She wasn’t.  She felt overworked, under prepared and just couldn’t cope.  And that’s when I did what had previously been unthinkable.  I offered to help.

I made her a coffee, listened to her and gave my support where I could.  From that moment she started to become more supportive and caring towards me too.  The story doesn’t end with us going on to be best buddies, our personalities are far too different for that, but we did build a working relationship that was respectful and collaborative.

You see we all have a choice to make.  We can focus on all of our negative interactions with somebody and feel anger and resentment.  We can choose to reflect those feelings of anger and resentment back to them and thus breed more negative circumstances within the relationship or we can choose to act with love.

What I couldn’t see when the relationship was at its worse (and controversial as this statement may prove to be) is that the criticisms people level at you, are often the insecurities they hold about themselves.  I had failed to recognise she was a human being who was acting out through fear and my responses and actions were doing nothing to calm and reassure her.  I had written her off and closed down the shutters.  I was not acting with love, I too had contributed to the negative relationship we had built.

When we shift focus and feel more gratitude towards a person, no matter how difficult that might seem, it automatically changes the energy surrounding the relationship.  We become more open to understanding them better and in doing so create a stronger foundation in which to build a more beneficial relationship.

Even if the person is no longer actively in your life (through either estrangement or a relationship breakdown) just by allowing yourself to let go of any feelings of blame and resentment will at the very least make you feel happier and more at peace.  Your clearer mindset will help you make better decisions on how to move forward.  If it is your desire for the relationship to be mended, you will be better placed to welcome them back should they choose to return.

If your first thought when reading this was ‘but they did this to me and I can’t forgive them’  it is important for you to understand that they are not experiencing these feelings towards themselves, only you are.  Therefore by holding onto these feelings you are effectively only punishing yourself.

Allow yourself to start feeling better right now.  Direct the time you would have spent today talking and feeling negatively about that person, into making a list of all the things you feel grateful or appreciate about them.  You may need to trawl the archives, but trawl through it you should, because only by letting go can you start to heal.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Buddha

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