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You can manage high-maintenance relationships

  • Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
  • 2001 18 Jul
You can manage high-maintenance relationships
Difficult people -- the ones who fray your nerves and drain your energy -- can be found anywhere. If you have high-maintenance relationships with people in your family or neighborhood, at work or at school, you don't have to despair. There is a better plan for dealing with such relationships than simply trying to avoid difficult people.

Here are some ways you can cope with -- and even improve -- high-maintenance relationships:

  • Rather than focusing on trying to change other people, decide to change your own behavior around them. Commit to building better relationships with them by changing the dynamics of how you interact with them.

  • Realize that all people are valuable and loveable in God's eyes, even with all their faults, and that He wants you to live at peace with everyone as much as possible. Consider the grace God has extended toward you, and try to extend grace to others you encounter.

  • If you're dealing with "Critics" (people who constantly complain and boss others around), try setting boundaries with them, scheduling limited, specific times to hear complaints and advice and telling them honestly when they have offended you and that you won't accept criticism that's not constructive. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, and don't allow criticism to snuff out the fire of your dreams.

  • If you're dealing with "Martyrs" (people who always play the role of a victim), try using humor when you're with them, since laughter is likely to foster a healthier perspective on life. Don't try to give them advice; that's futile. Instead, try to help them pinpoint the underlying issues behind their problems, to raise their awareness and spur them to do something about solving them.

  • If you're dealing with "Wet Blankets" (constantly pessimistic people), try to objectively observe their negativity without becoming infected by it yourself. Monitor the messages you give yourself internally, and proactively replace pessimistic ones with realistic ones that reflect the hope you have in Christ. Have positive comebacks when conversing with Wet Blankets, and try using humor with them, too.

  • If you're dealing with "Steamrollers" (people who are insensitive to others), avoid confronting them to engage in a power struggle. When you can, acknowledge and affirm their ideas so they know you're listening to them. But refuse to let them bully you, and let them know what specific needs you have when interacting with them so they're aware of what's important to you.

  • If you're dealing with "Gossips" (people who spread secrets and rumors), try protesting the next time they start gossiping. If you don't speak up, you're giving them your tacit approval. At the very least, you can walk away so you don't have to listen. Or, contribute some positive comments about the person who is being gossiped about. If you're the victim of gossip, quickly confront those who are responsible.

  • If you're dealing with "Control Freaks" (people who want to wield control over every situation), try explaining to them how their behavior makes you feel. Give them as much information as you can about a particular situation so they'll have less to worry about, and work in advance to negotiate your respective roles in ongoing situations (such as assigning household chores rather than fighting over them each time they need to be done). Help them feel better about who they are as people, rather than just what they do.

  • If you're dealing with "Backstabbers" (deceptive people), avoid sharing your deepest thoughts with them. Once you're sure that people have acted in a two-faced manner, confront and expose them. Build a support network comprised of people you trust and who trust you. Don't try to take revenge on Backstabbers; trust God to deal appropriately with them.

  • If you're dealing with "Cold Shoulders" (people who avoid meaningful contact with others), try exploring whether any recent changes in your relationships with them might have contributed to their decision to disengage. Talk with them openly about the problem. Realize that a cold shoulder reaction doesn't necessarily mean rejection; there are many possible underlying reasons for it. If Cold Shoulders don't respond to your efforts to heal relationships with them, grieve the losses and move on.

  • If you're dealing with "Green-Eyed Monsters" (people who seethe with envy), try praying for them. Don't take their attacks personally. Don't hide the hard work you do that contributes to your success, and when you see Green-Eyed Monsters succeeding, compliment them on their own efforts.

  • If you're dealing with "Volcanoes" (people who frequently erupt in anger), try guarding yourself from their wrath by refusing to be a scapegoat and clarifying the reasons behind all conflict. Although it's tempting to respond with anger yourself, resist doing so. Leave the situations in God's hands, and pray for the grace to be a peacemaker.

  • If you're dealing with "Sponges" (people who constantly take but never give back), try making a list of your own needs and desires to help you see how important they are. Don't allow Sponges to obstruct what you need and want, and deflate each situation they present to you as a crisis by showing them that it's actually quite manageable. Pray for discernment about how you can be genuinely helpful to them, and limit your help to those ways you believe to be most effective. Say no without feeling guilty.

  • If you're dealing with "Competitors" (people who keep score in every situation), try simply refusing to play their games by saying that you just want to make conversation and don't care how you compare to them. Share interests in non-competitive ways to emphasize mutual enjoyment rather than a "win-lose" scenario.

  • If you're dealing with "Workhorses" (people who never seem to be satisfied), try communicating your limits to them. Realize that you're human, and humans are imperfect. Give yourself permission to have fun sometimes, even if others don't. Let them see you pursue your dreams, and listen to them share theirs to help them understand why they're pushing themselves so hard.

  • If you're dealing with "Flirts" (people who communicate with innuendoes), don't blame yourself, because flirting is most often the result of Flirts' own insecurities. Don't allow yourself to be cornered by Flirts, and always have a comeback ready to fight them off. Let them see you be openly affectionate with your spouse, or hear you talk lovingly about him or her if your spouse isn't present.

  • If you're dealing with "Chameleons" (people who are so eager to please that they lack integrity), try clarifying the commitments they make by asking them to honestly reassess what they think they can do. Affirm the decisions they make to boost their confidence in making their own decisions.

Adapted from High-Maintenance Relationships: How to Handle Impossible People, copyright 1996 by Les Parrott III. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Ill.,, 1-800-323-9400.

Dr. Les Parrott III is a professor of psychology and co-director with his wife, Dr. Leslie Parrott, of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. He is a fellow in medical psychology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene.