dealing with negative relationships, part II

Image: "goodbye", by Flickr user woodleywonderworks
Image: “goodbye”, by Flickr user woodleywonderworks

If you missed part I of this post, you can find it here.

Negative relationships are destructive, and if you aren’t paying attention, you will take that negativity on. So, how do you handle a negative relationship when you find yourself in one? Well, it depends on the type of relationship and the outcome you’re looking for.

romantic relationships
I highly recommend counseling, and think it’s especially helpful when it comes to working out issues in a marriage or long-term committed relationship. I’ve been in all kinds of therapy, and whether I went alone or with my main squeeze (<–yeah, I just said that), I found the process to be incredibly freeing, empowering and healing.

Finding a great therapist is like finding any other great service provider – don’t stop until you find the right one. If you need a referral, start by asking trusted friends or family, call your insurance company if you’re insured, and definitely do a Google search (and be sure to check reviews!). If you don’t like the first one, try another one. If you don’t have insurance coverage look around for therapists or community resources for counseling based on a sliding scale (this means they charge you what you can afford to pay for services).

If you truly want to learn about your negative patterns and how you and your romantic partner keep perpetuating that shit, working with an experienced therapist can be very productive. Even if you ultimately decide not to stay together, therapy can help you both move on in a respectful and positive way.

When it comes to friendships, try having a face to face conversation over coffee or lunch. If you can’t do that, try Skype or at least talk it out by phone. Fighting with people over email is the least productive thing you will ever do. You will be misunderstood. Your words will be interpreted in the most hostile way, and you will likely misinterpret what the other person has to say, too.

Try not to blame your friend when you have the Big Conversation, but let her know that you are feeling some negativity from her and ask if your observations resonate. Does she need to talk? Is she depressed? What’s her perspective on the situation? Starting the conversation with empathy will hopefully help her to get to the root cause of her negativity. But if things go south and you start to argue, or she doesn’t see what you’re seeing, it may be time to take a break from the relationship.

I had a BFF for years and years, but we got to a point in life where we’d grown apart. Our lifestyles were very different. Our values had changed. And while I loved this person to death and we had a ton of history, I felt that he didn’t really understand my choices or what I was going through, and I felt that he was quietly resentful of the success I was experiencing in my personal and professional life. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way in the relationship that fighting doesn’t solve the issue. Our email communications went from unproductive to hurtful to shitty, and we torched the “friendship bridge”. Burned. It. To. The. Ground. Over the years though, we stayed in touch and I realized that the break was ultimately a good thing. While our friendship may never be as close, we were able to grow into our own people, and we’ve started to get to know each other again.

colleagues / business partners
I have had so many business relationships; some were great, some were horrible, some were great and then turned horrible… I am a believer in becoming friends with clients and business partners. And while friendship in business opens you up to amazing collaboration, it also opens you up to feeling incredibly hurt if things don’t work out. People get weird when it comes to money.

I once had a terrific business partnership with a person I considered to be a very close friend. Over time, though, it became obvious that we wanted different things. We didn’t have explicit enough conversations about what we both expected from the partnership and how we envisioned the relationship working. We also, unfortunately, never talked about what dissolution of the partnership would look like if things didn’t work out. As time went on, the gap in our expectations grew, and so did the tension. It was extremely difficult to exit the relationship gracefully and it ruined the friendship.

These things happen with clients, too – I worked with a leadership team closely over several years and really came to love the people there. I was very committed to them, and while I’m sure their affection for me was sincere, things went sideways at the end of the relationship. They got nasty. They said it was about a whole bunch of stuff. I think it’s because we outgrew each other and I wasn’t working for them anymore. It was hard for me to see things end so badly, but at the end I decided it was best to stop engaging and give it a rest.

When it comes to any kind of business relationship, put your agreement in writing. Again, opt for an in-person meeting if you can. Set expectations up front and bring in a mediator if necessary. And, know that despite your very best efforts, money will trump friendship for some people.

Sadly, sometimes there is no easy fix for a relationship gone wrong. It’s difficult to honor a relationship when you’re feeling hurt by the other person. But if I offer any advice that sticks with you, here’s my parting shot:

No matter how hurt or upset you are, don’t sink to being hateful or negative. Watch what you say and remain respectful. Think about what you say and if you’re mom would be proud of your words. Ultimately, you should try to be solid in who you are, regardless of what anyone says or thinks of you. Dr Wayne Dyer said it perfectly, “How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.”

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