Managing Difficult Relationships

Managing difficult relationships

Whether you struggle with alcohol use or not, it’s a simple fact of life that we have many different relationships with others, and some of those relationships may be difficult to manage at times. Today, we’ll look at why these relationships can be so stressful for us, dive into different types of relationships, and get a better grasp on how to navigate tricky connections with those in our lives.


Interdependent Relationships

A fancy name for healthy relationships. The root word “inter-” means “between,” and in this case, it means a balanced, reciprocal relationship. You rely on the other person, but still have your own sense of self independent of them. There is mutual trust, respect, time apart, and open communication.


Codependent Relationships

Alternatively, codependent relationships begin veering into the “unhealthy” territory. In a codependent relationship, that unique sense of self apart from the relationship begins to get lost. The relationship may be lopsided; one person giving more effort, intimacy, and trust than the other.


We must take care when a relationship begins to feel unsafe or unhealthy for us, and this is especially important when we’re alcohol-free. There are also relationships that are simply toxic. If there’s someone who is constantly negative, does not support you, or abuses you verbally, physically, or emotionally, then we must learn how to put distance in the relationship or cut ties altogether.

Why challenging relationships activate us


So what exactly is it that makes us feel so wound up in relationships, sometimes to the extent that we even feel it in our body? When you’re feeling upset with someone, it’s likely that your stress/trauma response has been activated. We’ve talked about fight, flight, and freeze; these are all part of that system that kicks in when we feel like we are in danger. There’s a fourth response we haven’t discussed yet, though: “fawn.”


The “fawn” stress response is what we call “people-pleasing” behavior, and is an integral part of codependent relationships. When we fear that our status within a relationship is at risk, our bodies sense danger and react. This may result in us agreeing to things we don’t really want to do, compromising our boundaries, and otherwise sacrificing our sense of self.


Examining relationships


If there are certain relationships that are currently challenging you right now, take some time to understand what is happening.


  • Do you feel safe in this relationship?

  • Does this relationship feel reciprocal, even?

  • How do you feel when you are separate from this person?

  • Which moments activate your stress response with this person?

  • Do you have any boundaries in this relationship, and are they mutually maintained?

  • What kind of space is necessary in this relationship, and how much space is there currently?

  • Is this person supportive of you and your life? Do they understand you?