Changing stressful relationships
Ainsley was really unhappy with her friendship with Rebecca after a big fight. Rebecca was cold and hostile towards her and avoiding her in school. Ainsley really wanted things to go back to before but could not tell Rebecca how sad she was feeling, and ended up shouting at Rebecca and accusing her of neglecting her. This made Rebecca feel even more angry and distant. But after a long talk with a good friend, Ainsley called Rebecca and apologized for her behaviour, and told her how sad she was that they were drifting apart. Rebecca apologized for avoiding her but didn’t know how to approach her after a fight and spark another fight.
We can see here that when Rebecca was cold and withdrawn, Ainsley got upset and angry, and pushed Rebecca further away. But when Ainsley showed warmth to her, Rebecca’s behaviour changed. This shows that in order to change things, you need to think about the part you play. It is very difficult to get others to change while you remain the same. So think of what you can do differently, not what the other person should do differently to make things right. If you try to force change on another person, they are more likely to resist (just as you would), and increase the stress in the relationship.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What do I want to change in our relationship?
- Am I expecting the other person to change rather than me?
- What can I do to change the relationship?
Another relationship problem that causes stress is expectations. When expectations are too difficult for the other party to reach, relationships can break down. It is important to notice and questions your expectations and to change them if they are causing problems in the relationship.
Often, a sign of relationship difficulties is when you feel very stressed and emotional. When this happens, go somewhere quiet and ask yourself:
- What did the other person do that upset me?
- What did I think they should have done?
- What is the expectation that underlies this?
- Is this expectation reasonable/fair?
- Is there another way of thinking about what the other person should do?
Then, carry out the new way of thinking!