Whether it’s your hypercritical in-laws, your hostile roommate, or your controlling sister - it can feel impossible to get along with certain folks! Let’s assume that for now this difficult person is going to be in your life. How might you improve your interactions with this person when things get toxic?
An important key to remember is that if you become reactive with a reactive person you are almost guaranteed to make the situation more volatile, risk tempers spiraling out of control, and reduce your chances of getting what you need and want. Of course when your sister is raising her voice and speaking in a mean-spirited way, it’s not easy to remain calm and centered. Reactivity can be contagious! It may feel good in the moment to raise your voice and say something hurtful back, but this rarely contributes to the ongoing relationship and fallout from an escalation may create a large rift that is difficult to recover from.
When you find yourself feeling reactive and on edge of losing your control- SHAKE UP THE DIRECTION OF THE CONVERSATION. This could be as minor as changing the subject or as large as stating that the conversation is moving into unhealthy territory and it's time to stop for now so you both can calm down.
Model and Stick to Boundaries for Acceptable Behavior
At a time when you both are calm, state your intention to get along and have a positive relationship. Then using neutral language that focuses on behaviors and not the person, offer specific suggestions. For example, if you wilt when your roommate sends verbal barbs about not cleaning the hair from the bathtub, acknowledge that you sometimes forget and will set a weekly reminder for yourself. Also state that it is very hurtful when she calls you mean names and you will not participate in future conversations that stoop to this level.
Reframe the Disagreement
If the person you are dealing with has a very strong ego or has repeatedly been difficult to reach agreements with, try a different course of action. Enlist a trusted friend or co-worker to help you brainstorm what is most important to your difficult person. It may stretch your sense of justice to cater to the needs of the difficult person but try to focus on the bottom line result- what actions, options, and methods are most likely to help you get your needs met along with this difficult person’s needs?
Set Reasonable Expectations for Results
If you have been on the receiving end of hurtful, selfish demands from your Stepdad over the past 15 years, it is not likely that he will change tomorrow. Trying for the 100th time to get him to empathize with your point of view will only increase your suffering. In such cases it may be best to minimize the length and types of interactions you have with him or only talk with him when others are around so he is less likely to try to manipulate you.