How to Deal when Someone you Care About is a Jerk


Even the most perfect person is bound to do something that will make you sad at some point in your long and varied friendship, courtship, or family relationship.

Maybe they didn’t respond to your text. Or you thought they had changed an upsetting behavior, and there they are – falling right back into the same bad patterns. Quite possibly they did something terribly mean like skip your birthday party. Or you heard from an acquaintance that they said something snarky behind your back.

All of these things, taken in the wrong light, received at the wrong moment, could be friendship ending, relationship ruining, family-feud starting problems.

But they don’t have to be. When I put the effort into fostering relationships, it’s usually for keeps. I have more than a handful of people that I’ve been friends with for over 20 years. I just celebrated my 10 year anniversary of friendship with my closest college pals. I send Christmas cards to a frighteningly high number of relatives, and I am still friendly with quite a few exes. Most of these people have really hurt my feelings, or made me a little peeved at certain points.

The reason we’re still tight? It’s not that I don’t get upset, or hurt by stupid little things – I do. It’s learning how to deal in the moments when you’re feeling upset, then moving forward. Here are some tips that help me figure out what to do:

  • Relationships are Long: I remember a time when I tried to give a friend money for a round of drinks. They declined, saying, “Our friendship is long, I am sure it will all even out.” While it’s easy to get annoyed in that second if one person is always shorting you on the check, it’s much more relaxing to just remind yourself that in the scheme of a long relationship, things are bound to come full circle. Stop keeping score in the moment.
  • Put Yourself in their Shoes: While this is the most clichéd piece of advice you can read, here’s why it’s important. When you’re obsessing that they didn’t  respond to your facebook invite because they hate you, think about two things – the history of your relationship, and what they have going on in their life right now. Is it a crazy week at work for your friend? Do you know they have a phone that’s on the fritz? While it’s easy to take one occurrence as a world-ending personal insult, there could be a circumstance totally unrelated to you that’s making them act that way. Most people-even our most valued friends- care more about their own lives than they do about yours. Remembering that they have their own stuff can make the difference between being upset, and just getting it. Then think about how they’ve treated you in the past. Have they gone out of their way to love and support you and be a good friend? It just so happens that little thing about RSVPs are their one weak spot? Then maybe you can let this one thing slide. If this is the final notch in a one-sided relationship, that’s another story.
  • All Relationships are Not Equal: There are different levels of relationships. Some are the drop you off at the airport, hold your hand at a funeral type that wouldn’t ever intentionally do anything to hurt you. Others are the people you meet for happy hour occasionally, and wouldn’t tell that your goldfish died. Adjust your expectations on how much you value the way they treat you accordingly, and keep them in your life. Who cares if some of your friends are flaky, if the people that count are always there? Take all the happiness you can out of spending time with them, and leave all the temptation to want more from them than you should at the door.
  • Give Them the Silent Treatment: I don’t mean this in the middle school way, but the easiest way to stop being upset about something is to focus your time and energy actively on something else. It works on toddlers all the time – take the toy they want out of the room, and they easily forget. Follow their lead. Sitting and thinking about how upset you are won’t make you feel anything but more upset. Hanging out with a different group of friends, or finally taking that new class at the gym will only give you the space and time you need to come up with a solution. And it might make them realize they did something crappy before you even have a chance to tell them you’re upset.
  • Is it You or Them? Take stock of your mood. Are you feeling extra sensitive, and taking it the wrong way? Is it you, not them?
  • Just Let it Go: Some things are worth arguing about, and others aren’t. Even if you tell people how you feel, sometimes they won’t react the way you wish they would. If you make it a point to be clear about how you’re feeling, and make an effort to come from a place of love with the people you care about, it’s hard to be upset with the outcome. Even if things don’t go down the way you had hoped, you can rest easy knowing that you did all you could, and won’t feel even worse for harboring hard feelings. When in doubt, just assume they didn’t mean it that way. It will save you so much heartache just assuming they had good intentions even if they really didn’t.
  • Complete Yourself: When you’re looking for validation from other people or other things to feel 100% a person, you’ll always fall short. Fill up your life with things you value, and learn how to be happy even when you’re all alone. While your relationships should enrich your life by making it fuller, tastier, funnier – they shouldn’t define it. You make yourself who you are, and deciding that on your own without looking for cues from others on how you should feel will lead to a whole lot more happiness, and a lot less squabbles about why they didn’t want to hang out with you last Saturday night. Cashmere sweaters, friends, and soul mates don’t make you complete – you do.

And top all that off by being a good friend, relationship partner, sister/mother/uncle/cousin yourself. When you’re in doubt about whether you should call/send a card/show up, always make the effort. You never know how the person is feeling who’s receiving your gesture – maybe it will be the tipping point between a horrible day and an awesome day. Why not buy the thoughtful gift, over-tip, or go the extra mile? Even if it doesn’t work out in the long term, you will know you gave it your best shot.

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