Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsRICHARD CHAMBERS: Unfortunately, difficult relationships are just a part of life, whether at home, with our family, or at work, or with our friends. It's just something that we have to deal with from time to time. As they say, you can't choose your family, but you can choose how you respond to them. And that's really where mindfulness comes in. If we bring mindfulness to our difficult relationships, we can start to notice all the ways that we ourselves hold on, maybe to resentments about things that have happened in the past, or expectations that people should be a certain way or shouldn't be a certain way, or just holding grudges. Quite often we hold onto things.

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 secondsThat creates a lot of stress and tension for us and often leads to conflict in our relationships. So if we can start to notice that we're holding onto these things, there's the possibility of letting go. Maybe we let go of that grudge. And just next time we see that person, we meet them as if for the first time, just actually being open to what's possible. So yeah, maybe every time over the last three months, one of our family members or a colleague might have been a particular way, but are they always going to be that way? And what would happen if we actually just let go of that, approached them in an open way, in a friendly way?

Skip to 1 minute and 21 secondsMaybe we're curious about what's going on for them, what they need, how we can support them. That might actually lead to some different outcomes. And if we do notice that we start reacting-- and, of course, that's likely to happen. We might start to just tense up, or just get annoyed, or once again be holding onto that grudge. We can start to notice that. Paying attention to the body and the breathing is an excellent thing to do throughout the day. We just notice that little bit of tension. And what's that about? Oh, OK, I'm holding onto some expectation again that you shouldn't be doing that. And that's causing stress for me.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 secondsSo if we can notice that that's happening again, we just let go. Maybe we breathe around ourselves back in the body, and then focus our attention back on the interaction that we're having. And, of course, if we start to listen mindfully, really pay attention to what's being said, really be curious about what the deeper message is that the person is trying to communicate, if we let go of our own judgments and ideas about what's being said, don't just wait for our turn to speak, but actually really listen to what's being said, that can improve our relationships quite a lot and can even resolve conflict.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 secondsAnd probably one of the final ways that mindfulness can really help us with difficult relationships is to focus on what's healthiest about the relationship, because with everybody in our life, there are usually ways that they've hurt us or disappointed us. But there's also often friendship and love and respect and good memories. And so if we focus our attention on those things, that's just going to shape the kind of interactions that we have and can be very helpful. And this can make us very resilient at work, for instance, or at home.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsIf colleagues aren't doing something that they've agreed to do, what we can do is rather than just judging them and thinking, oh god, why do I have to work with this person, perhaps what we could do is let go of all of that. Maybe sit down with them and let them know, look, if we remove any sense of right or wrong or good and bad and just look at what's happening, what's actually going on here between us? Is there something that you need, something that I could help you with?

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 secondsOr is there something that you're not getting from someone else that if you were to get it might actually help you to do the job that you're supposed to be doing, and therefore help me? And so just bringing that attitude of curiosity and interest can be very helpful. And, of course, there might be situations where it's just too difficult and we can't resolve the conflict. And in those situations, what we can do is we can establish a clear boundary. We might choose to limit our contact with that particular person. And, of course, sometimes there's nothing that we can do, at least not in that moment.

Skip to 3 minutes and 55 secondsSo we might need to just walk away for a moment, just bite our tongue, walk away, put some distance between us, maybe come back later on. If it's a family member, if it's somebody that you can't avoid forever, perhaps you just wait till things cool down and then come back later on when the emotions die down a little bit and perhaps revisit what's happened and try to work through it. Or if it is somebody who's an acquaintance or a friend, and things are too difficult with them, sometimes we can just set very clear boundaries and decide to end the relationship or just not spend any more time with them.

Skip to 4 minutes and 29 secondsBut we can do that in a mindful way, in a much less reactive, angry way, where we're just being very clear about what's OK with us, what's not, and what it is that we need. And on a related note, mindfulness helps us, of course, to have a better relationship with ourselves, especially when that relationship's a little bit difficult. And so if we have a setback or we fail at something or we're disappointed by something, we can notice if we get caught up in self-criticism or resentment or judgement about ourselves. And again, we can let go of that. We can tune into what it is that we need.

Skip to 5 minutes and 1 secondAnd we can start to take much better care of our needs, which of course can make us much more resilient, much more effective at what we're doing, whether that's at work or at home or in our personal life.

Difficult relationships

Watch Richard discuss how we can bring mindfulness to difficult relationships and how that can lead to different outcomes in our personal or professional life.


Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Maintaining a Mindful Life

Monash University