23 May 2023

Managing hostile relationships – when conflict becomes more than 'normal'

| Morgan Kenyon
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man and woman walking and talking

If toxicity starts to emerge in relationships with loved ones, it’s important to tackle the problem head-on. Photo: Strategic Psychology.

Everyday conflicts between family or friends are normal, and can usually be resolved with some constructive conversation.

But other issues can be more complex – even toxic.

Difficult relationships can take on many forms; a critical parent who makes us feel anxious, an overly demanding partner causing tension, or a possessive friend pulling us away from others.

Clinical psychologist and managing director at Strategic Psychology, Nesh Nikolic says it’s important to recognise the difference between healthy disagreement and ongoing hostile or toxic behaviour.

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“It’s a simple fact of life that, in every kind of relationship, there will eventually be some conflict,” Nesh says.

“This is completely normal and actually serves a purpose. By setting and testing boundaries, we get to know each other, ourselves, and our relationship dynamics better.

“When this starts to take a toll is when those points of tension become so integrated into the relationship that it can’t exist without them.”

Identifying the emotions that embody time spent with your loved one is a good place to start. Healthy relationships are built on kindness, respect and empathy.

“If your conversations are filled only with negatives like criticism, sarcasm, contempt or jealousy, it’s time to set some clear boundaries surrounding your needs and values,” Nesh says.

“Honest communication is key, so if something isn’t working for you, consider why and how best to hold your partner accountable.

“Remember that challenges are normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work on them. Wanting to grow and improve is part of being in a healthy relationship.”

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Many of us hold romantic and family relationships as central to our lives. When these kinships are disrupted or cause a lot of strain, they often birth feelings such as sadness, worry or frustration.

“These negative emotions can quickly transform into more serious states like depression, hopelessness, anxiety and extreme stress,” Nesh says.

“Remember to be kind to yourself if you begin to feel overwhelmed.

“Don’t be afraid to seek support from other loved ones, but do consider that a professional will have an unbiased view and can connect you to resources family and friends may not know about.”

He says it’s also important to reflect on what personal values or goals have the most meaning, and take the time to practise a skill or hobby that builds on them.

man sitting down smiling

Managing director at Strategic Psychology, Nesh Nikolic says it’s never too early – or too late – to seek professional advice on relationships. Photo: Strategic Psychology.

Seeing a psychologist shouldn’t be a last-ditch effort. Nesh says professional advice is valuable at any stage.

“Prevention is always the better approach, but it’s never too late to speak to a psychologist about a person who is troubling you.

“It’s also beneficial to take advantage of therapy after the fact. Following a toxic relationship, unpacking lingering emotions is an important stage in the healing process.

“Not only will it help you move forward, you’ll be well equipped to recognise and handle hostile behaviour in the future.”

If you’re struggling to manage difficult relationships, Strategic Psychology can offer professional support. Jump onto its website and book an initial appointment today.


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