Three Ways to Be Authentic in a Difficult Relationship

Unsplash photo by James Hose Jr
One of my friends recently said to me. “Judy, your next book ought to be about how not to have a messy relationship.” I pondered that comment. At first I thought it would be a great idea. But it’s not reality. Instead, we all have messiness in our relationships at some point in our lives. Plus if we had no difficulties, we’d likely be bored. That’s why we need to know at least three ways to be authentic in a difficult relationship.
We can be authentic through realizing our value and avoiding defensiveness. In addition, we can balance ourselves with other positive relationships.
There is a difference between difficult and toxic relationships. Dr. Sherrie Campbell gives us more clarity in her book, “But It’s Your Family.” The author gives both hope and support to those who struggle with ingrained toxic families. I’ve used her book as a resource in my counseling practice. Clients gain clarity in the midst of confusing relationships.
But for now, let’s start with 3 ways to be authentic in a difficult relationship. First of all, you need to be authentic by valuing yourself.

Be Authentic by valuing yourself

Our biggest enemy may not be the difficult relationship. Instead, it may be our thoughts about ourselves. So many of our thoughts are automatic. We don’t realize how cruel we are to ourselves.
  • Do you have a harsh critic inside your head?
  • Are you telling yourself things you’d never say to your best friend?
Dr. Kristin Neff has an online test to discover our level of self-compassionate. When we learn how to value ourselves we can begin to teach others how to treat us differently. From a place of acceptance and respect, we can have the stamina we need to grow from a difficult relationship.
Here are tips I’ve practiced and helped my clients with:
  • Take deep breaths
  • Write in a journal
  • Write an anger letter that you won’t send. (It’s never a good idea to text the difficult person when you’re angry, by the way.) You can later read it to your therapist or an empty chair. You can begin to let go of the bitterness and resentment. 

Secondly, we can be authentic by avoiding defensiveness.

Be Authentic by avoiding defensiveness

If we feel accused by another, it’s natural to react with an explanation. It’s easy to get into the partnered pattern of the accusation/defensiveness dance. By the way, you’ll read how I identify relationship patterns as dances from my book, “Beyond Messy Relationships.”  Over time, we become exhausted with mastering this dance.
So I tell my clients, “stop the ping pong game. They reply with a confused, “what?”
We then discuss how the back and forth in a conversation ends up escalating, as if playing a game of ping pong. One person pings (accuses,) while the other person pongs (gets defensive.)
Rather than go back and forth, you can think of stopping the game. Imagine catching the ball and putting your paddle down. With a daily practice of deep breathes, you can gently repeat back what the other person is saying. This is called, mirroring. Rather than getting reactive or defensive, you’re giving the “accuser” opportunity to hear their words through you. It’s like giving them a mirror instead of playing the ping pong game.
  • Take time to consider the opposite of what you’d normally do.
  • Learn to be comfortable with silence.
  • It takes practice.
  • Deep breathing and slowing down is not a natural skill.
  • De-escalating and slowing down the accusation/defensiveness dances honors the relationship.  
 Thirdly, we can be authentic by nurturing positive relationships.

Be Authentic by allowing positive relationships in your life

We can do our part to create an emotionally safe space in between our difficult relationships. But, sometimes it’s not possible.
Relationships still requires two people.
It’s natural to experience heartache and sorrow when you open your heart for needed change. But, in some cases, it’s important to have healthy detachments. That’s why it’s vital to surround yourself with positive, resilient, and growing relationships.
Be aware of how your closest friends make you feel.
  • Are you trying to prove yourself with them?
  • Do you feel that they don’t get you?
  • Are you drawn to people who need you to change them? Don’t fall for it.
  • It’s time to look for and nurture friendships with positive and encouraging people.

It’s likely I won’t write a book about how to not have messy relationships. But of course, we do want to be authentic and grow “Beyond Messy Relationships.”

Your Next Step

Share this blog post with a friend. They can get their first three chapters of Beyond Messy Relationships for free.