Loving Difficult People – Part One

Are you aware of the tremendous advantage frogs have over humans? They can eat anything that bugs them! Wouldn’t it be great of we could consume our relational problems rather than letting them consume us! What “bugs” you the most about people? Is it inconsistency? Inflexibility? Inability to give and take? Bad attitudes? Whatever it is that makes relationships difficult for you to build and maintain is something that needs to be looked at and dealt with. 

I personally can handle disagreements or differences of opinion, but people who refuse to engage in and embrace a relationship that they have chosen to become involved in really gets to me. It means that the relationship becomes very one-sided very quickly. All give and no take. You share feelings and thoughts and there is no response, no interaction. So, it is like talking into a void never knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling. 

I find that most Christian people suffer from very poor and even surface relationships. They truly are missing the relational skills needed to form and build healthy beneficial relationships with others believers and with non-believers. And, as a result they suffer from guilt in their relationships with others. 

Christians are often taught that we should be full of grace,. Sounds good. But, what does it mean? Does God expect us to get along peaceably with everybody? Are we suppose to simply overlook other people’s faults and idiosyncrasies? Right relationships with difficult people can seem like an impossible standard to reach. Just what are we suppose to do?

The Apostle Paul offers this practical advice, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). You might paraphrase that verse to read: Do the best you can to get along with everyone. Yet realize that once in a while you are going to have a relationship with a difficult person that may fall short of the ideal. 

A personal inventory of the “Three P’s” will help you determine your part in a difficult relationship or association.

    • Perspective. How do I see myself? How do I see others? How do others see me? Our perspective determines how far our relationships will develop.
    • Process. Do I understand the stages of a relationship? Do I realize there are some stages in a relationship that are more critical than others?
    • Problems. When facing difficulties in a relationship, how do I handle them?

Show me a person who sees themselves in a negative light and I will show you a person who sees others in a negative way. The opposite is also true. A person who sees himself positively also looks for the good in others. It’s all in one’s perspective. 

Some people see a relationship as a series of isolated incidents, and one bad incident can break the relationship. People who think this way never develop deep relationships. Their friendships are precarious, on-again-off-again types of associations. These people run every time a difficult situation arises. They seldom, if ever, develop long-standing relationships.

Let’s take a look at perspective first. We act in a way that is consistent with the way we see ourselves. I act as I see myself. In fact, it is impossible to consistently behave in a manner that is inconsistent with the way we see ourselves. Understandably, this is the cause of many relationship problems. 

Only when we view ourselves with 20/20 vision will we be able to see other people clearly. Perspective is crucial. That’s why Jesus spoke about judging others: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:4-5). He is telling us we need to deal with our own attitudes before we criticize another person.

In Matthew 22:39 we read Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself.” He knew that if we truly loved ourselves, we would also love our neighbour. He also knew that before we could really love our neighbour, we would need to love ourselves — not a selfish, self-serving type of love, but a deep appreciation of who we are in Christ. Most of the time our relational problems stem from the fact that we ourselves have problems or issues that have not been resolved. It is not possible to treat another person’s hurt until we have first discovered the cure and accepted the treatment ourselves.

The story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37 illustrates this principle. The robbers who beat the the traveler used people. They stole from the traveler and saw him as a victim to exploit. The priest and the Levite were legalistic and withdrawn. They saw the beaten, robbed victim as a problem to be avoided, because they believed if they touched a dead man they would be unclean according to the Law. The Good Samaritan was a social outcast — despised, ignored, and rejected by society. He knew what it was like to be passed by and uncared for, but he also had experienced the cure. When he saw this victim, he was able to empathize with him. He looked upon him as a person who needed to be loved, identifying with the traveler’s problem and sharing in the solution. 

It is perspective that helps build relationships. 

When you realize that people treat you according to how they see themselves rather than how you really are, you are less likely to be affected by their behaviour. Your self-image will reflect who you are, not how you are treated by others. You will not be riding an emotional roller coaster. This type of stability will have a tremendous effect on how you feel toward and deal with others.

The key to successful relationships really gets down to responsibility. I am responsible for how I treat others. I may not be responsible for how they treat me; but I am responsible for my reaction to those who are difficult. I can’t choose how you’ll treat me, but I can choose how I will respond to you. 

More next time…