How to Improve Relationships

She Made Me Angry

How often do you find yourself saying something like?

‘she made me angry’,
‘they were so frustrating’ or perhaps
‘he wound me up so much I couldn’t enjoy myself’

All of these are our reactions to behaviours which we have seen in someone else and have chosen ourselves how we will react to them.

When we started thinking about occasions when someone had irritated us recently, it did not take long for all of us to come up with recent examples. For me, there was the person who had not responded to a meeting invitation I had sent, and had also sent me an email including a link to a ‘beginners guide to...’ for an area which I have a lot of experience in. Both these actions immediately got me annoyed and I found myself running a thinking pattern that went something like ‘Who does he think he is? How am I supposed to know if he is going to meet me or not if he doesn’t reply to my invitation? And why doesn’t he value me and my team?’

Another person talked about their manager who always wanted more from her, and the team member who was forever doing different tasks to the ones she had been asked to do. Then there was the lodger who was irritating one of us because he hadn’t done something that had been asked of him several times and seemed to be taking no notice of several the rules he had been asked to sign up to when signing his lease.

For all of us, these were small things that were annoying us but we all noticed that they were gradually distracting us more and more because we were avoiding having a difficult conversation.

Thinking Differently about the Relationship

After identifying interactions that were irritating us we then went on to consider the interaction from a different perspective and to see if we could reframe it into something more positive. We also thought about what positive intention the other person may have had in the way they behaved. By looking for a positive intention and reframing the behaviour of others into something more positive we can start to change how we react to their behaviour. It doesn’t matter whether the positive intention is what the other person is actually thinking because it is a story we are running for ourselves, in the same way as our reaction to their behaviour is a story we are running.

When I considered the email and link from a different and more positive perspective, it came to me that the link could have been sent because they found it useful and thought I might do as well. Also, the meeting request may not have been responded to because the other person was overwhelmed with work and hadn’t got around to it. A couple of days later I received a message from them saying that he was juggling many projects and proposed a new time when we could meet.
The team member who was doing different tasks was new to the team and was perhaps looking to go over and above what had been asked to make a good start and feel that she belonged to the team. The lodger was having a difficult time at work and perhaps he had overlooked some of the house rules due to being overwhelmed and feeling unwell.

When looking at the relationships from these new perspectives, we all found that we could consider things more objectively and came up with plans on how to have the conversations we wanted to have in a respectful way.

Family Relationships.

One thing I observed whilst we were talking about relationships was that nearly everyone mentioned a difficult relationship with a family member. As we discussed these relationships it became evident that many of us are running very old and well-practiced patterns of behaviour linked to these relatives. I noticed a pattern of behaviour I have with my sister which goes back to when we were children and shared a bedroom. She was very untidy and disorganised and left her clothes everywhere; on the other hand, I was tidy, organised and left mine tidied up in a corner. We used to get annoyed with each other and ended up creating a line down the middle of the bedroom to mark out which half of the bedroom belonged to who so that we could live in our own way in each half. We also run very different patterns when it comes to managing time which can result in some interesting debates. She now lives in Cyprus and I don’t often see her often but when she does come to stay I find it very challenging. Since I first discussed relationships during a Fresh Air Fridays session last year, I’ve been practicing acknowledging our differences and looking for strengths we both have that compliment each other. It hasn’t been easy but I’m now running a story that is more positive for both of us and allows me to enjoy the time we spend together rather than getting irritated and annoyed with her.

Next Steps

Next time you notice that you are starting to feel annoyed or irritated by someone else’s behaviour, acknowledge this and see if you can find the positive intention in what they are doing. If you find you are really stuck with this and can’t feel better about the relationship, then go for a walk and give yourself permission to feel whatever negative emotion there is without any judgement. This is often the first step in dissipating the negative feelings.

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