Can you think of someone in your life: friend, mate, parent, sibling, relative, boss, co-worker, who drains your energy?
Is there someone in your life you experience as too demanding, critical/judgmental, manipulative, needy, selfish, always negative, a downer to be with? Even if they have other good qualities and might even be fun at times?
Do you find yourself trying to make excuses for them because the relationship has a long history or because you feel a sense of obligation to them?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you know what a high-maintenance relationship is like.
I’ve often heard people describe high-maintenance as someone who spends a lot of money or likes to live an indulgent lifestyle. This is not high-maintenance unless some of the other above characteristics apply.
If like me, you’ve never had this type of relationship, encountering one can be confusing at first until you figure out what’s going on. My first experiences with this type of person occurred well into mid-life, so it was a real awakening. Both of the people I refer to—one a romantic interest, the other a new friend were really nice, intelligent people, fun to be with and giving. So, by the time I realized something was “off” I had developed a history with them and a commitment—of sorts. It made it more complicated to extricate myself and took longer than I would have hoped or liked.
Think about any relationships you now have or have had and if they are/were high-maintenance:
- What are/were the specific qualities of the other person that were challenging?
- Describe the kinds of interactions that occurred.
- What are feelings you had/have about the other person and yourself?
- What are/were the reasons you’ve told yourself why you stayed?
- How did/does this relationship make you feel about yourself?
Granted, there are some high maintenance relationships that are more problematic to leave—such as with a family member. There are more options than staying and suffering or leaving.
All too often people in high-maintenance relationships hold out the hope that they can do something to make things better. That could be a tip-off: you feel it’s up to you to fix things. A common refrain: if only I could be more sympathetic, patient, understanding, helpful, etc. then things could get better. Another one: I feel so bad for this person—they have or have had a rough life. They mean well. You are continually making excuses for the strains being put on you.
What you can do:
Be clear about your boundaries and be willing to set limits
Take charge of setting agendas, including conversations and activities.
Be willing to say, “I’m not comfortable with this conversation,” “I’m not willing to go along with this,” “I know you’re having a difficult time—you need to figure this out yourself,” “I’m not available.” You get the idea—there may be other situations that you can adapt this way of being. (Feel free to write me and ask for suggestions for your particular circumstance).
Every relationship that is high maintenance requires difficult choices. You need to ask yourself the tough questions, the real “whys’ of you continuing to stay.
Here are some of them:
- Do you perceive an emotional, mental, and/or physical cost to you if you leave?
- What are the real reasons you stay (not the excuses you tell yourself–e.g. believing the worst-case scenario). The reason almost always has to do with fear.
- What more could you realistically do to make the relationship better?
- In what ways might you be contributing to the stresses?
- What’s the worst thing that would happen if you left?
- What are the realistic consequences of leaving?
- Are those consequences worse than what you are living with now?
Sometimes people don’t leave simply because they don’t know how to leave. It’s never easy, you’re likely dealing with someone who knows how to manipulate, (even unconsciously—their behaviors have become so ingrained they don’t realize the effect of their actions and/or attitudes. They also likely experience enough success to motivate them to continue).
Some Steps You Can Take:
- Be clear in your own mind and heart this is important for your sanity and safety.
- No one likes being rejected—even though the high maintenance person has been
rejecting you all along—due to lack of respect for your well-being.
- Choose a time and place where you can be uninterrupted (put cell phones away and off)
and a place that is neutral and comfortable for both of you.
- Start the conversation with something like: “I need to have a conversation with you that
is likely difficult for you—it is for me.”
- Continue with: “This relationship isn’t working for me. While there is much I value about
what we have shared, I realize my goals are different than yours, and our relationship takes too much energy for me to maintain.” This is just a sample, you can adapt it to your style and situation.
- The tough part: No matter what the other person says or does, you need to stay clear
and consistent. You can use the “broken record” technique—no matter what the other
person does, don’t get into explanations, just repeat some version of “this isn’t working
for me, and there’s nothing you can do to make it better.”
You can expect to feel sad, guilty, frustrated, etc. That’s natural—it is an ending. Keep in mind this will help you find relief from stress and peace and improve the quality of your life.
I’m interested in your comments and learning about the High Maintenance relationships in your life.
Please feel free to share this with anyone who might find this useful.
You can also check out my previous blogs on my website: ShelliChosak.com