Managing Challenging Relationships

As the holiday season approaches, many individuals find themselves reflecting on the relationships they hold close and the impact of the ones that are more challenging. Taking a proactive approach to how you handle the relationships in your life this holiday season can decrease the stress anxiety often associated with spending time with those you love.

Finding ways to enjoy the time you get with friends and family, without feeling high levels of anxiety, stress, resentment, or frustration can feel like a challenging task when relationships have unresolved tension lingering. Prioritizing your own mental load can help you feel more in control of your responses to these stressors BEFORE they occur.

Begin with identifying the relationships that feel effortless, easy to maintain, and respectful of your time or efforts. Identify the qualities that make this relationship feel comforting or secure. These are the relationships that naturally recharge your energy and make you feel connected socially. These relationships are founded on mutual respect and autonomy. Although these relationships take intentional effort, they can be recreated with others. Find the qualities and characteristics that make this relationship stand out, and ensure that you are modeling these qualities in other relationships regularly.

For those relationship that feel like they currently take more than they give, you may notice that the anticipation for spending time with these people causes increased discomfort or worry. Often, this is a signal to our bodies that these relationships are full of unpredictable stressors, or repetitively hurtful patterns of behavior that lead us to feeling shut down. Although it can be easy to feel discouraged or hopeless about change being brought to these relationships, there are indeed steps that can be taken to increasing the satisfaction found in these relationships.

Adjust Expectations

Even though we have become familiar with the patterns some of the challenges present with these relationships, often we respond with a level of surprise or anger when we see the pattern occur again. Setting realistic expectations supports your own mental load, while also setting the other person up for success. If there is no reason to believe the individual has made adequate changes to a distressing pattern, what purpose does it serve to hold them to the expectation that the pattern with be gone this time?

Instead, identify points of connection or tolerance that you know work for the relationship or have been successful in the past. Focus on the threshold the relationship has to maintain positive connection, and focus on when or how to step aside before the negative stressors become present or dominate the interaction. Understanding the limits of a relationship and adjusting expectations reduces the pressure you and the relationship, can help your ability to walk away with a successful interaction.

Respecting Your Own Boundaries

The focus often in therapy or when dealing with interpersonal challenges, is how to set boundaries with others. One of the key steps that is often missing, is understanding and learning to respect your own boundaries as a foundational milestone towards setting boundaries with others. If you feel secure in identifying and understanding the reasoning behind your boundaries, it becomes easier to model to others what respect of that boundary looks like. If we attempt to set a boundary with others, however we fail to reinforce, respect, or understand the boundary for ourselves, we decrease the likelihood of others being perceptive to the boundary.

What are your boundaries? Why are these boundaries present? What would it look like to have this boundary respected? What happens when someone begins to step over my boundary? How do I reinforce a boundary if someone does not understand or respect my boundary? How to I honor the boundaries I set to myself?

Answering these questions can assist you in beginning to build security in your own boundaries. Respecting your own needs, is the first step in supporting others in successfully respecting your boundaries.

Know Your Limits

Given the commitment or the interaction, what is your capacity to manage the situation? This answer may change daily or given the season of life you are in. You may find that during some seasons, your threshold for managing relationships is higher, while during others it feels harder. Adjust to these limits. Make a plan and stick to it. Check in with yourself throughout the reaction. When are you starting to notice your energy levels depleting? This can be a good time to take a break, go to the bathroom, or excuse yourself completely. Often times, we bypass the need to respect what our brain or bodies are communicating is causing discomfort. Moving forward, try to be more present with how to detect and respond to these feelings.

It is important to remember that this is not a fool proof guide to managing all relationships. Relationships where severe mental health concerns, addiction, or abuse is present are as easily simplified to these above stated steps. Although these can be a strong starting point, they will not shift traumatic or significantly harmful relationships.

With respect to relationships that have simply felt more taxing or misaligned, these strategies are particularly helpful for beginning to feel in control of your own ability to manage your own interpersonal needs. Understanding actionable steps to supporting healthy connection can ensure that your upcoming holiday season goes smoother than any other year.

Whether it is the holidays or any other point throughout the year, nothing replaces the positive impact of therapeutic services. Implementing an external support system can help you continue to process and prepare for supporting your needs this year.

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