Loving Difficult People – Part Four

Perhaps you have recognized someone you know in each of these caricatures we have been looking at. Or maybe you’re dealing with a person so difficult, he is in a category all by himself. Take heart; there are certain general rules which you can put into practice that will enable you to work more effectively with problem people.

1> Love them unconditionally.

2> Ask God for wisdom in working with them.

3> Stay emotionally healthy yourself.

4> Set and maintain proper personal boundaries with the person.

5> Be honest with God, yourself, and them.

The Process of Relationships

It’s important to understand the process of relationships; specifically the stages of a relational breakdown. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

  • The Honeymoon stage is the one we begin with. We usually have an unrealistic view of the relationship at this point. Obviously, what attracts people to each other, whether it be a business relationship, a friendship, or a romance are their positive qualities. The excitement of finding someone who meets some need in our lives tends to temporarily blind us to their negative traits.
  • Specific irritation is the stage where we begin to open our eyes and see things we don’t like. Here we develop a memory bank of these negative traits. But then we also see the relationship in a more realistic light. If you look back at the early weeks of your marriage or of a new job, you will probably recall the first incident that shook you into reality — the time you realized the honeymoon was over.
  • General discomfort should cause us to deal with the specific irritations that have piled up in our memory banks. We become more open, honest, and transparent about telling someone why they are making us uncomfortable.
  • Try harder stage of development where we raise our energy level to make a success of the relationship. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s very hard to separate the problem from the person.
  • Exhaustion often becomes a serious problem in a relationship because we are too tired to try any longer. We tend to throw up our hands and quit at this crucial point. 
  • Separation is the final stage. By this time the relationship has usually been terminated with little hope of restoration. Usually, by the time this happens we are too numb to even care or hurt.

The series of stages does not have to be completed; the cycle can be broken. Most often, if the process is reversed, it happens during the stage of general discomfort. At that point it is still possible to make the decision to accept what you don’t like about a person and to love that person unconditionally. As you try harder to overlook a person’s faults, it becomes easier to again focus your attention on his or her positive traits.

Problems in Relationships

In most relationship it is inevitable that at some point a confrontation will take place. At this crisis point it’s very important to approach the offending party prepared with the right attitude. If a confrontation is handled correctly, it can actually strengthen the relationship. If not, it can bring an abrupt, unhappy end to the relationship. In order for this not to happen, follow these six guidelines:

1> Bring in principle persons involved in the conflict. Experience has taught me that unless all persons involved come together, the whole story will never be pieced together accurately.

2> Line up the facts. Relying on hearsay evidence or “general impressions” will only invite emotion-laden rebuttals and, possibly, resentful counterattacks.

3> Never reprimand while angry. Make sure you are in control of your emotions. The angrier you are, the less objective you’ll be — and the less effective you will be in dealing with the problem or issue. It’s prudent to delay a confrontation until you’ve coolly asked yourself two questions: Could I have contributed to the problem? Were there mitigating circumstances I’m overlooking

4> Be precise about the offense. Let the person know exactly what the problem is. Don’t try to soften the blow by hemming and hawing or refusing to cough up the details. 

5> Get the other person’s side of the story. Always give the other person the chance to explain what happened and why they behaved as they did. There may be extenuating circumstances. Sometimes, you may even be a part of them. 

6> Don’t harbour a grudge. Once you have handled the issue, don’t carry around hostilities or unforgiveness. Let that person know you consider the problem a closed book and act accordingly.

 Our ultimate goal in dealing with relational problems should be to present the truth in such a way as to build and strengthen the relationship, not destroy it. Unfortunately, this cannot always be accomplished. If a relationship cannot stand an honest face-to-face encounter, then it probably is not a healthy relationship. In some cases, ending the relationship is the only solution, but this should be the last choice.