Marriage Maven's News & Views  By Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW     August 2015
How to Deal with a
Difficult Person

Who hasn’t been thrown off balance by a difficult person? The perpetrator could be virtually anyone -- a spouse, an in-law, other relative, friend, coworker, or boss.

Sometimes it’s you or (gasp!) me.

Which reminds me of what Rabbi Joseph Richards said: “People are annoying. So find the person who annoys you the least and marry that one!”

Perhaps such reframing of “difficult” to “normal” can help us relax a bit when it comes to thinking about constructive responses to people by whom we feel besieged.

After leading a Dealing with a Difficult Person workshop for corporate employees, I realized that similar communications skills that enrich marriage and other personal relationships, when applied in the workplace will enhance teamwork and effectiveness.

To move from simply feeling annoyed by a difficult person to responding constructively, it helps to understand the likely underlying reasons for the troublesome behavior.  Here’s how to do this, using guilt-trippers, scorekeepers, and blamers as examples of difficult behaviors: 
Instead of expressing their wants and feelings directly, they say things to make others feel guilty. 
things to make others feel guilty.

Example: “Go ahead and watch TV while I do the dishes and then put the kids to bed. I feel a migraine coming on but I’ll manage. And I still have to get up early tomorrow to finish that project at work.” (sigh)

Underlying Reason: Guilt trippers lack self-esteem. Consequently, they don’t feel worthy of asking directly for what they want. They may act like a martyr, hoping the other person will get the hint. When that doesn’t happen they become resentful or depressed.

Solution: Encourage guilt trippers to express themselves clearly. Ask your partner, “Do you want me to help more?Please say specifically what you want. You can ask me for anything. I might not give you the moon, but if you ask me to do a simple chore, I’d probably say ‘fine.'"

Says nothing when upset but keeps track of each incident and eventually lets it all out at once. Example: “I was expecting you to call an hour ago to say you’d be late for dinner. I should have known you wouldn’t call because you didn’t let me know when you were over an hour late last Tuesday and three other times last month. And that time two years ago…”

Underlying Reason: Scorekeepers feel uncomfortable about making waves by complaining. Eventually, like a volcano, pressure accumulates and they spew out what’s been building up.

Solution: Apologize for your part in causing discomfort. Say you prefer to hear what’s bothering the person each time rather than have resentments accumulate.

These people accuse others of being inadequate, using You-statements and name-calling, such as “You’re a jerk,” “a slob,” or “stupid.”

Underlying Reason: Blamers lack self-esteem and feel unsafe expressing themselves with I-statements, such as “I’m disappointed (or I feel disrespected or frustrated)” by your lateness.”  They’re more likely to say, “You’re always late,” or “You’re rude.” An insecure person who feels inferior to his partner, fearing abandonment, might unconsciously resort to blaming or putting down the other, hoping to erode the latter’s self-esteem to the point that she or he won’t think they can find a better mate.

Solution:  Compose yourself with a couple of deep breaths, so you won’t respond impulsively. Try to be objective. Ask yourself, “Am I at fault?” Either way, respond calmly and respectfully: “Yes, I often to run late and I hear this bothers you. It’s my problem of trying to do just one more thing before I leave. I don’t mean to be disrespectful.”

If you realize you’re being falsely accused, state your disagreement calmly. If you’re being unjustly accused of lying, for example, say, “I’m actually careful to be truthful.” You can also politely ask the person to give an example of what he or she is accusing you.

Maintain Your Self-Esteem
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Yet living with difficult behaviors can be toxic.

These are three kinds of difficult behaviors. If you’re on the receiving end of any of them, use common sense. If you can muster up compassion for someone who is being difficult, the person will sense this and feel less of a need to project his or her insecurities on you.

You can also become part of the solution by using positive communication techniques, as illustrated step by step in my book
Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love
[1]  and you may be happily surprised by the results.

In any case, do not trap yourself into staying around toxic behavior. If it continues despite your efforts to defuse it, be willing to walk away, at least momentarily.

Remember: We cannot change another person’s behavior; we can only change our own.

[1]  Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, includes seven key communication skills for keeping a relationship flourishing while dating and after marrying.

More articles by Marcia Naomi Berger's appear on: How Do I Date; Psych Central;
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Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted  is a practical guide for engaged, newly wed, and long married couples--and for marriage minded singles.
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Spanish and Chinese language editions of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love to be available in 2016. 

Workshops, Classes, Programs
Couples gain positive communication skills and step-by-step instructions for holding marriage meetings, which one wife describes as "so simple but so powerful" in her review. Meets in lounge, San Rafael Community Center. 618 B St. Couples, $100 for San Rafael residents; $110 nonresidents.  
Register here or phone 415-485-3333.


OCTOBER 20, 2015.
For women: Learn how to meet him, date successfully, overcome obstacles to marrying, and create a lasting, fulfilling relation-ship. Lounge, San Rafael Community Center. 618 B St. $40 for San Rafael residents; $45. non-residents.  Register here or phone  415-485-3333.

Private or group sessions can be arranged for these and other services.

Marriage Meetings 24/7 click here

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Professional Education and Training Center offers this one-hour online class you can take any time: The Marriage Meeting Program: A Strength-Based Approach for Successful 21st Century Relationships. Professionals earn one continuing education unit. All welcome!

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, is the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. You can see her on Mosaic TV show talking about her inspiration for and process of writing this book.

Please contact me to comment, ask about my workshops, therapy, counseling, and coaching services; or for speaking requests. Phone 415-491-4801.


I thank Joel Blackwell, Jane Blatteis, Linda Bloom, Pamela Butler, PhD, Chris Coffman, Netty Kahan, 
Phyllis Levy, Yehudis Chana Meshchaninov, Kate Moore, Merna Strassner, and Rus Devorah Darcy Wallen, MSW
 for commenting on "Disarming the Four Horsemen that Threaten Marriages," featured in the July edition of Marriage Maven's News & Views. Anonymous comments also welcome.

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