Linda Lewis Griffith

Mending strained relationships

Some relationships are a snap. It’s a breeze to be with the other person. Problems rarely crop up. But other relationships are strained. You struggle to carry on a conversation. Arguments erupt out of nowhere. Negativity simmers just beneath the surface. Time together is exhausting.

You can avoid most unpleasant folks, but you’re forced to spend time with others because they’re family members, co-workers, or spouses of friends.

Relationships get strained for lots of reasons. They may be troubled from day one. Two people with different political beliefs might bristle as they’re introduced.

Once-solid relationships can also turn sour. If a co-worker makes advances toward your husband at a holiday party, you’ll probably find it unpleasant to work in adjoining cubicles. If a parent is openly critical of a grown son’s career choice, he’ll call and visit less often.

Strained relationships can be very specific. You might get along well with three members of the family, but find the fourth person grating and your relationship constrained.

Strained relationships are caused by a breakdown in communication. Communication is like a road along which words and emotions travel between two individuals. In healthy relationships, ample amounts of data flow freely. The speaker sends a clear message that is interpreted correctly by the recipient. If a misunderstanding occurs and creates a blockage, the damage is swiftly cleared and communication reinstated.

When a relationship is strained, the road is constricted and clogged with negative messages and hurt feelings. The debris of previous conversations lies in heaps along the pathway. Constructive conversation is nearly impossible if the wreckage isn’t removed and trust re-established between both parties.

In extreme instances, communication stops and members become estranged.

Of course, the best strategy for dealing with strains in relationships is to avoid them from happening in the first place. If you notice an increase in tension say, “Things don’t feel right between us. Are you able to tell me what’s going on?”

Listen carefully to the feedback. Do your best to make the necessary changes. If you can’t confront the problem or if the other person isn’t interested in a resolution, try to contain the damage and peacefully coexist.

Strained relationships are challenging, but they’ll never completely go away. Recognize how you contribute to the process, then work to heal things as quickly as you can.


Make compatibility a priority. Be pleasant and respectful to everyone in your day.

Understand your own biases. The stronger you adhere to your judgments, the more damage they inflict on your relationships.

Practice forgiveness. We all make mistakes. Leave the door open for transgressors to make amends.

Initiate contact. If a relationship has become tense, be proactive in setting things right. The longer hurt feelings fester, the more difficult things are to rebuild.

Find safe topics to discuss. Guide conversations toward neutral, cordial matters that put all those present at ease.

Don’t dominate the airwaves. Be a good listener. Ask open-ended questions and keep quiet while the person answers.

Compliment often. Relationships flourish when both parties feel accepted. Comment freely on what you like. Keep criticism under wraps.

Apologize quickly and sincerely. When you’ve been wrong, say so. A heartfelt, “I’ve acted badly. I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused,” sets the stage for reconciliation.

Accept the situation. Some relationships will be strained. There is little you can change. Be welcoming and gracious. Don’t make the problem worse.