Challenging Relationships (Part III)


In today’s episode, Part III, we’re going to talk about how we can work to improve and better understand the challenging relationships that we have in our lives. We will cover setting boundaries, empathic listening, building connection, and communication patterns.

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We all have challenging people in our lives. And today we're entering part three of a series on making peace in challenging relationships. In part one, we discussed coming to a better understanding of our differences with this challenging person. And in part two, we explored thinking differently about this person, viewing them through a new lens. And today finally, in part three, we'll talk about how to approach and maybe even improve these relationships. If you have someone in your life or maybe multiple someones in your life that you've been struggling with or challenged with, I hope that you can find some peace in the series.

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 in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hi there. And thanks for tuning in today. We have a brand new sponsor on the podcast. The Sponsor is Joy Spring vitamins. Joy's uses natural herbs in their liquid formulas. Now I was hesitant in the beginning to try a liquid vitamin because in the past I had tried with my kids and measuring out the quantities to seem like too much work for me. So we've been doing the gummy varieties, but I'm a convert. These are easy to measure, you either give your kid one dropper full or a half a dropper full, and it's actually helped speed up bedtime at our house because I have a clever little one who will suck on gummy vitamins for 15 to 20 minutes to delay having to brush her teeth. I think you're going to love Joy Spring. They're great tasting effective non-toxic and alcohol free. And my kids really, truly do love them. So if you want to try it out, they're offering 20% off for Simple Families listeners go to and use the coupon code, "simple families" to get 20% off that's and use the coupon code "simple families" for 20% off before we get into today's episode, I want to remind you that registration for the mental unload starts tomorrow, Thursday, October 22nd, which is actually my birthday.

You can register any time between the 22nd and the 29th. We officially kick off on the 29th. And this is the last time this year that I'll be offering this program. The mental unload is my renowned course on decluttering the mental load. If you have been wanting to focus on taking care of yourself and improving your own wellbeing, as well as improving partnership, this is the program for you go to And this year, especially with all that's going on in the world. I have received so many messages from past participants who have said that the mental unload has been the tool that has helped them get through? I want it to read a few quick words that I got from Annie recently.

She said: " The mental unload was exactly what I needed. It felt like filling my lungs with fresh air so I could find it. They clear my head. I had a lot of shame and guilt with emotions I held onto for so long and having community around to help and support me was truly a game changer. It helped me to realize that I'm not the only one out there who feels these feelings and it validated me. I will continue to go back to my notes that I took from Denaye on a regular basis. And when I hear my friends talk about how overwhelmed they're feeling, I know I can confidently send them in the right direction."

I'd love to have you join us this round. We officially kick off on Thursday, October 29th. So make sure you grab your spot before then go to simple Now, one more quick thing before we get started on part three today, I recently got a podcast review from someone saying that they missed me doing interviews. Now, I haven't stopped doing interviews. I'm just kind of on an extended break from them for scheduling reasons. When the pandemic hit and everyone was at home with kids, home childcare lacking, it became a lot harder to schedule and coordinate interviews along with the facts that when I do interviews, I often have to read whole books in preparation for, and you know, 2020, I just haven't had the time to do that. So moving forward, there will definitely be interviews coming. I actually have several people lined up and I have lots of ideas.

And if you have ideas for guests that you want to say on the podcast, email me those at [email protected] okay, well, let's move into part three. If you haven't already listened to part one and part two, make sure you do that before going any further. In this episode, if you don't listen to those first parts, this one probably won't make all that much sense to you. All right, today, we're going to talk about how we can work to improve and continue to better understand these challenging relationships that we have in our life. Whether or not you're religious. I think that the serenity prayer is something we all need to apply to relationships. God grant me the serenity to accept the things. I cannot change the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference when it comes to the other people that are life.

Those are words to live by because in our relationships, we're not in the business of changing other people or really even judging them and deeming them in need change. Instead, I'm going to encourage you to understand their viewpoint. I'm going to encourage you to accept the people that you love, where they're at, give them time and space to change. When they're ready, if they're ever ready, they may have back to be inspired to change just by surrounding themselves with other people who are making positive changes in their life. So, if you want to inspire positive change in others. I encourage you show, don't tell, show them through your attitude and your interactions. I say, show don't tell because we have to try really hard, not to lecture, not to tell people what to do. You can't just tell them the ways that they need to change and expect them to nod and smile. And say let's do this.

But empathy and self-awareness will help. When we're talking about how to improve these relationships, the things that we've already talked about, developing empathy and your own self-awareness well, that's actually kind of a strategy in it and of itself because by developing empathy for the people around you, even the people in your most challenging relationships, you're going to find that these relationships will continue to improve everything that we've been talking about. In these past two parts, the mindset shifts. Those are actually strategies as well, strategies and tools for improving relationships, because the way you view and the way you communicate with the people around you have a changing effect on the way that you interact with them. And here's why, because when we look at what we are bringing to the relationship, we are half of the relationship and the tone and the demeanor that we bring to the relationship can be transformative.

If you're making positive changes in your life, you're going to be bringing a fresh mindset into your relationships, but don't expect to inspire change overnight. And the people around you real and lasting change can take time. And it really has to happen on the terms of the people around you. If you're anything like me, you get really excited when you find something new that you're passionate about, like minimalism. For example, if you feel called in this direction towards a simpler life, not everyone around you is going to feel the same. And the reality is talking about it and encouraging it might drive some people crazy. So you kind of have to know your audience and again, and when it comes to the benefits of living a simpler life, you can show, don't tell, I promise. They're going to listen better to your actions than they do your words, but we have to check our boundaries.

We're going to talk a little bit more about boundaries because when we're looking at improving our relationships, we have to make sure we're setting appropriate boundaries. I really love the quote. "The only people who get upset when you set boundaries, are the people who benefited from you having none. " When we're setting boundaries in a relationship, we have to look at how does this person occupy our time? How do they occupy our energy? How do they occupy our mental space? Are they demanding more time and energy and mental space than you are able to give, if so, it's okay to set boundaries. It's necessary to set boundaries. And that might mean stepping back. First of all, you may need to set boundaries around time, when it comes to time, this pretty straight forward, maybe you're spending a lot of time with this person in your challenging relationship.

You're allowed to scale back. You're allowed to spend less time with them. It might be a temporary change or maybe a permanent change, but you are allowed to set boundaries by scaling back on the amount of time and the type of time that you spend with these people. You have a choice in how you spend your time. Secondly, you're allowed to set boundaries with your energy. You can be helpful and you can be supportive, but you absolutely can say no. And you should say no, especially when it's out of your comfort zone or especially when it's something that you're agreeing to, that, you know, you're later going to feel resentful about. Has anyone ever been there? And thirdly, we have to set boundaries around mental space because sometimes these challenging relationships, even when you're not physically present with the person, even when you're not talking about the person or to the person, they take up your mental space, you're thinking about them.

You're evaluating the relationship. You're thinking about what went wrong and whose fault it was. You're giving this challenging relationship, a lot of your mental space, and you can set boundaries around that. You can choose not to let this person occupy your mental space. And I can tell you when you start to set boundaries around that, you're going to immediately feel lighter. And how do you do that? Self-awareness when you start to notice yourself perseverating over this relationship and over analyzing it and thinking about it constantly catch yourself, notice it that way you can shift your energy and your time and your mental space to things that are more productive and more positive for you. So far, we've talked about developing empathy and the positive impact that that can have on your relationships. And also about setting boundaries. Let's talk a little bit about listening authentically. Remember in part two, the scenario where two different people were standing at different street corners and they saw a car accident and each of them saw something different.

Each vantage point offered a different perspective. I want you to consider this in your own relationship. Another perspective, another viewpoint is not wrong. It's different and be truly curious to understand their perspective. Not only is this going to give you more empathy as you start to understand their point of view, which by the way, you don't have to agree with, but it's also going to help you build connection with them. We are all entitled to our own point of view. And when we're listening and we're really hearing theirs, they're going to feel seen. They're going to feel more connected to us. So remind yourself of that. Be truly curious and trying to understand the viewpoints and the beliefs of other people in our lives, who are challenged by even if you're not interested in changing your own. So sometimes we call this type of listening, empathic listening.

When you listen with empathy, you can better understand a person emotions and feeling when you're using this type of listening, empathic listening. You're showing that I understand your problem. I get how you feel. I'm interested in you. And as a listener, you're communicating this through both your verbal and your non-verbal behaviors, like your body language. So when you're doing this, when you're listening, empathically, the person you're speaking with is going to feel encouraged to really express themselves, particularly if you're not interrupting them, if you're not criticizing them. And if you're not judging them. And remember just because you're listening, empathically doesn't mean that you're agreeing with the person. It doesn't mean that you're changing your viewpoint or your beliefs. It just means that you're really trying to listen and understand and connect, which brings us to the importance of building connection. Connection is such a powerful thing.

Research shows us that humans need connection for survival. The power of touch is something that should never be underestimated. Not everyone feels comfortable touching other people or being touched, especially right now with the state of the world. But if you're in a relationship with someone that doesn't mind being touched, I encourage you to reach out, put your hand on their shoulder, put your hand onto their hand, even if you need to sanitize at first, but physical touch can immediately connect us. And I'd venture to say the lack of physical touch in 2020 is probably having a huge impact on the relationships in this world. In on the individual wellbeing of all of us physical touch can immediately start to break down barriers. So, if this is a person that you used to touch in the past, but you don't touch them anymore. Try it again.

You might ask permission if you're not sure if it's okay. I know perhaps it sounds a little bit too weird, perhaps it sounds too intimate. If so, just try turning your body toward the other person. This is a tip from John Gottman. I love the Gottman relationship work. If you're interested in learning more and reading more, I recommend to anything by the Gottman Institute. And if you're interested in doing any kind of family therapy or marital therapy, Gottman certified therapists tend to be really great and their work is scientifically backed. So one of the tips that Gottman leans towards heavily is turning towards the person that you have this challenging relationship with by turning in, turning your body towards the person, your body language is instantly changing and showing them I'm open to you. I'm open to listening. I'm tuned into you. This might be as simple as just turning your knees from left to right or turning your head or more importantly, lifting your head up from your phone and looking into the eyes of the person next to you.

And speaking of eyes, use eye contact. Eye contact can absolutely increase connection as well. Now, some people can be intimidated and overwhelmed by eye contact. So you need to start by offering small little bits of eye contact at a time. You might not be able to make constant eye contact the whole time that you're talking. I think to this person that might be out of your comfort zone, it might be out of theirs. So start small, but I promise as you increase connection, physical connection, by touching each other, turning towards each other, making eye contact, you're going to see a certain amount of connection and warmth increase. And it's going to make a difference in your relationship.

Now, actually, I'm going to share a few words on communication patterns. Sometimes challenging relationships can be accompanied by aggressive language and sometimes passive aggressive language. And when I say passive aggressive language, I mean saying things without really saying it like when you're trying your sister-in-law's new sweet potato recipe at Thanksgiving, and you say, Oh, these are interesting saying things without really saying it.

I heard you if passive aggressiveness is something that you tend towards and we all do to some degree, try to be more direct in your communication. If you tend towards passive aggressiveness, if you want to say something, but you're afraid to actually say it. So you do it passive aggressive, lovely, avoid that. Wait to say it until you're ready to say it straightforward. It might take some time and intention to find the right words, the right words that are neither passive aggressive or aggressive, passive aggressive language can be every bit as hurtful as aggressive language. When it comes to communicating. It's important that we ask for what we need. Sometimes we feel like we're lacking support and relationship, and it might be because that person with us, that person we're having the relationship with just doesn't know how to support us. Maybe we're not being specific enough.

So when you're looking to improve communication, give consideration, are you being passive aggressive? Are you saying things without really saying it straight forward? If you are re-evaluate this communication style, because it is not going to move you forward. And secondly, if you're seeking support, don't be afraid to be specific about what you need. The people in your life are not mind readers. They don't always just know. They don't always know that you need help. They don't always know what you need from them, whether it's physical support, emotional support, whatever it is, try asking for it and see how it goes. I think it's important to repeat that if your challenging relationship is an abusive relationship, physically abusive, verbally abusive, sexually abusive, I would strongly recommend seeking professional support before trying to improve our relationship I hope over these past three episodes, you've taken away little bits and pieces that you can apply to your relationships today and in the future.

And it was a lot. So come back and re-listen and revisit these episodes, especially when you're feeling particularly challenged. And if you're feeling like you are ready to declutter your mental space, enlighten your mental load, I'd love to have you join us. Go to to grab a spot. We start next week, we start on Thursday, October 29th. So make sure you do it before then. And again, that's I appreciate you hanging with me for the last three weeks as we've worked through these series. And I really hope that you found it valuable. I'll talk with you next week. 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.