Challenging Relationships (Part I)

We all have challenging people in our lives. Maybe it’s your brother or your mother or a best friend from childhood. Our goal is to try to start viewing this person through a new lens—so you can reframe your mindset and your attitude.

This topic of relationships is incredibly broad and I want to narrow it down to focus better. So we’re talking, specifically, about finding peace in challenging adult relationships.


Okay, let's admit it. We all have relationships in our lives that we are challenged with, whether it's a friend or a sister or your mother or father intimate relationships can be challenging. And as we grow, sometimes we grow together and sometimes we grow apart. Today is going to be the first of a two-part series on finding peace in challenging adult relationships. And sometimes that piece doesn't necessarily come with the other person, but instead, it involves making peace within ourselves about that relationship. In today's episode, we're going to be talking about emotional intelligence and worldviews, and different perspectives. Our goal is to start viewing this relationship through a new lens so you can reframe your mindset and your attitude. And with the holiday season's upon us.

Many of us are going to be gathering with friends, family more often to enter into this season with a fresh mindset, might make a world of difference. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based on my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based on research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

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Try it out. Let me know how you like it. I think you're going to love it. All right, back to today's episode, the topic of relationships is so incredibly broad. I wanted to narrow it down so we could focus a little bit better. So we're talking specifically about finding peace in challenging adult relationships. And this is going to be a two-part, like I said, so the second part will be coming out next week. We all have challenging people in our lives and to help illustrate some of the points I'm talking about today, I'm going to use a case study of a sort, and I'm going to call this person Alex. So when you're listening, imagine Alex to be whoever the challenging person in your life is, maybe it's your brother or your mother or a best friend from childhood. And the goal is to start viewing this person through a slightly different lens.

Imagine you wear glasses and you took off your glasses and put on a new pair and that new pair of glasses helped you to see this person a little bit differently. That's what I'm hoping to help you do reframe your mindset and your attitude. Now, like I said, this is a huge broad topic, and there are about 1,000,001 things that we're not going to get into. We're only going to be scratching the surface, but I hope it's in a way that's really valuable and gets you thinking. There are people in our lives that we have always struggled with from the earliest of days. And then there are people who we used to have a really positive relationship and connection to, but we seem to have grown apart from, so I want to talk a little bit about what this means growing apart. Maybe it means that you are pursuing different interests and passions, and your life seems to be moving in a different direction from the challenging person.

And this absolutely happens all the time. But another way that you may be growing apart is an emotional intelligence. If your emotional intelligence has increased and the person that you're having a hard relationship with has not had an increase in emotional intelligence. You may feel more of a distance between you and this person, emotionally and relationally. It may feel like you're growing apart. So let's talk about emotional intelligence. If you're listening to this podcast, it's safe to say that you're probably somewhere on a journey to self-reflection and personal development. And it's probably safe to say that you've made some strides on improving your emotional intelligence, whether you know it or not. I think it's important to talk about emotional intelligence because it plays a really vital role within our relationships. Let's start by defining it. What is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence helps us to better understand and empathize and negotiate with the other people in our lives.

I think we can venture to say that those of us who have higher levels of emotional intelligence may have an easier time with relationships. There are really five main skills or categories that make up emotional intelligence. Now, I believe we've talked a little bit about this on the podcast before, but I want you to hear it again. And to hear it through the lens of relationships, thinking about how emotional intelligence impacts the people around us. I'm going to read a few notes from Daniel Goleman who published some good articles in the Harvard business review. He explains five categories or five skills in emotional intelligence.

First and foremost is self awareness. Those who have higher levels of emotional intelligence are self-aware. They know a little bit about themselves, their own strengths and weaknesses, and values, and drives those of you who have higher levels of emotional intelligence understand yourselves a little bit better. You're able to recognize mistakes when you make them. And you're also able to recognize that you're not perfect in any way by any means.

Number two is self-regulation. If you have higher levels of emotional intelligence, you'll probably have an easier time controlling and redirecting your impulses and your moods. You're probably not that volatile higher levels of emotional intelligence usually mean that you have good control over your anger and your aggression.

Number three is motivation seeking out achievement and improving yourself just for the sake of feeling good about it. Not necessarily because of the external motivation or bribes or rewards you may be motivated to do better just for the sake of doing better.

Number four is empathy. You're able to understand other people's emotional makeup. So not only do you understand yourself with self-awareness, but you can understand other people as well. You're going to take the time and energy to understand what lies beneath the surface of the people around you. The people that you have relationships with, both the easy relationships and the hard relationships.

And last but not least number five is social skills. If you have higher levels of emotional intelligence, you're probably able to build rapport with other people in order to move the relationship in the direction that you're moving towards. There is research that shows that we're born with certain amounts of these skills, but we can absolutely strengthen them with time and practice and knowledge. And that is the simplified version and definition of emotional intelligence. It's about self-awareness regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. So why am I talking about this? Because personally, I find that the most challenging relationships that I have are with people who have different levels of emotional intelligence than I do.

So let's talk about Alex, our case study, pretend that Alex is your difficult person. Maybe she's your sister or your mother. So let me tell you a little bit about Alex. She's someone that has lower E Q, which is another way of saying emotional intelligence. Now, if you had a family member or a friend who you were intimately connected to that had low IQ or intellect, you'd probably have empathy for them. You might find it easier to have patience with this person, but deficits in EQ or emotional intelligence can be harder to empathize with. Now, maybe when you're young, you had a different relationship with Alex, perhaps you never had a really strong connection, but it wasn't like it is now. So here's some things that you see from her. You don't see a whole lot of self-awareness or regulation. So she yells and gets angry very easily.

She's the person who's shouting and stomping away from the table at Thanksgiving. She barely ever notices the impact of her actions on other people, which sometimes can feel like she's self-absorbed or only really paying attention to herself and her own needs. She rarely apologizes. She's not terribly motivated to do better just for the fact of doing better, and do often feel like there's ulterior motives. When you do see motivation from her in this challenging relationship, you probably don't see a lot of empathy. She doesn't really seem to care about or notice when you're upset or notice when you are having emotional struggles. And you might see a deficit in her social skills. You might see her struggle with other relationships in these same ways. Maybe it's not just you. So if any of these things sound familiar, you may have a challenging relationship with someone who has a lower level of EQ, but that doesn't mean that you can't have a positive, warm, connected relationship with them.

So think about it. Who is your Alex and what brings you together? Are you family? Are you friends? What sort of shared life experiences do you have? If this person is a family member, then you've probably spent many, many years sharing experiences and growing together, or perhaps even growing apart, there's a chance that this person has been in your life for decades. And you've had ups and downs, maybe like a roller coaster, even if you've grown apart, perhaps you still gather for family events like around the holidays. Maybe you don't talk on the phone every day, but you still have other shared connections and a reason to continue the relationship. And if that's true, if in your gut, you know, you want to continue this relationship. You may just have to envision that it's going to look a little differently. It's not going to be idealized, which we're going to talk about more next week.

Now, I feel like we've done a lot of talking about the weaknesses of this person, but we also need to talk about his or her strengths. Negativity bias, leads us to focus on the weaknesses. So we have to be a little bit more intentional about seeing their strengths. So even though Alex tends to act pretty volatile and hostile towards you, you've seen her being gentle and loving with other people in her life. You know, that she's capable of those emotions. And you know that those emotions exist within her heart. And you may even consider them strengths of hers, even though they're not necessarily things that encompass your relationship with her, she is warm and caring and loving. Yes, of course she is flawed as we all are, but it can be really easy to focus on these flaws on the negative and on the difficult interactions that you have with the person.

But focusing on their strengths can be really powerful. It can allow you to see them through an entirely new lens and find ways that they can add to your life. Even if it isn't always the way you envisioned it. Let's talk a little bit about worldview. It can feel very difficult to have a relationship with people who have a different world view from you to see life from a different vantage point. This especially holds true here in the US with the political climate. If you have, and family who have different political beliefs from you, it can feel incredibly confusing and can make you feel disconnected. As we move through life, we often think that there is only one way that things happen or one way that things should happen. And when we proceed like this, it's easy to point blame. If there's only one right way to live, you're either right or you're wrong.

If something goes astray, it's either your fault or her fault. There's always someone to blame, but often that's not really the case. Reality is something that is constructed. It is not objective. And let me explain what I mean by that. Let's say you just witnessed a car accident with distracted drivers. They came to an intersection and they collided standing on one street corner. And there's a stranger on a different street corner. When the police come to interview you, you and the stranger have two entirely different stories. You had a different vantage point. You saw one person pull out in front of the other person. And the stranger on the other corner saw something entirely different. Who's wrong. Who's right. You each approach the scenario with a different viewpoint. You're telling your own best version of reality, your own best version of what you saw. You might feel like person A is responsible for the accident.

But the man on the corner, feels like person B is responsible. Is there one truth can only one of you be right? If so, that means there is an objective reality. There is one final absolute truth. Yes, this is what happened. This is the person to blame, but most of the time it doesn't happen like that. It's not so clear. Instead there's a constructed version of reality. That means we each approach our scenarios and our challenges and our disputes with our own life experiences. It's kind of like your own baggage. You bring your own baggage to these relationships and that baggage changes the way that you view the interactions with every other human in your life. Back to my car accident example, that's strangers standing on the street corner had been rear ended by a woman two months earlier. So not only was he standing on a different corner from a different vantage point, but his life experiences are also going to heavily impact the way he constructs the reality of the accident.

He may have developed deep set core beliefs over the years that women are bad drivers. And therefore it was easier to see her fault. That's his baggage. That's what he's bringing to the situation. We all bring our own baggage to relationships, whether knowingly or unknowingly. So when it comes to challenging relationships, you're bringing your baggage and he or she is bringing his baggage to the relationship as well. It's useless to point blame. It's useless to try to prove that one of you is right and the other is wrong. And instead of letting yourself get caught up in this, this, he said, she said my fault, his fault, her fault, understand that that person might have a different vantage point and it might be entirely valid. He or she might be standing on a different street corner with different baggage than you and as a result, they may be seeing and believing entirely different things.

And maybe that's okay, is our goal in life to make everyone else a carbon copy of ourselves? I don't think so. Now, as I said, most people listening to this podcast are probably somewhere on a journey towards personal development and improving your emotional intelligence in some way, shape or form. I think it's safe to say it can be really easy to get arrogant about this. It's easy to feel like you might be doing better than the next person in life, because you have more self-awareness or you're better able to regulate your emotions, or you have more motivation or more empathy, but stop yourself, get off the pedestal. If that sounds familiar and realize that you are not better than the next person, you are not better than the person that you have challenging relationships with. You are just different. You have different sets of strengths than they do.

There's a very good possibility that as you've moved forward in this personal development journey towards higher levels of emotional intelligence, you may feel like other people in your life are moving backwards. Now, let me say that again. As you gain more emotional intelligence, it can feel like other people are moving in the wrong direction, but they actually might just be holding still. And this could be one of the reasons that brings about this feeling of growing apart, because you're experiencing movement and the other person isn't experiencing that type of movement. They might be experiencing movement in different areas. It might feel like this person in your life has become more hostile and is yelling more and getting more aggressive. But in actuality, it might just be your interchange, that's making you view it differently as you're developing better self-awareness and self-regulation the people around you might be staying the same and that distance between you might be growing, or it might feel like it's growing as a result.

So whatever point you're at in your journey, remember that that's yours and yours alone. And it's important for us to view that other person in the challenging relationship with us, as normally, naturally flawed, just like we are, but they are not less, they're just at different place in their lives at a different place in their journey, with different priorities. We have to meet them where they're at. We have to face and embrace the person in front of us right now, not the person that we wish they were. And when we can do that, when we can start accepting them for who they are, instead of trying to twist and pull and turn them into who we want them to be, there can be huge opportunities for growth in your relationship with them. The more you find acceptance and embrace this person in front of you, the stronger the emotional connection can be.

Now in talking about relationships, it's really important to talk about protecting ourselves. If you're in a relationship that's abusive, whether it's physically abusive, sexually abusive, emotionally abusive, you have to protect your emotional wellbeing and the emotional wellbeing of your family and the people around you. Your safety has to come first. So if your challenging relationship is an abusive relationship, I would strongly recommend having professional assist you. Whether that's working with you personally and, or working collaboratively with you and the person that you have the challenging relationship with, but safety has to come first, emotional and physical safety.

So next week, we're going to be talking about the impact that this person has on you. And what do you want this relationship to be? What are your goals? What is the risk of idealizing? These relationships also talk about boundaries and making positive changes. If you have questions or comments, or you've just found this episode to be helpful screenshot while you're listening to it and post it up to your Instagram stories, make sure that you tag me so I can respond and reshare. Thanks for tuning in. I'm so happy to have you as a part of Simple Families. If you're enjoying the podcast, please leave a rating or review in iTunes that helps the show to reach more people. Thanks. And I'll talk with you next week for part two, have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.