loving people when it's hard

Growing up, I never thought relationships would be so hard. I didn’t have a rulebook for unruly people and I honestly wasn’t very good at not letting people walk all over me. I found myself in some toxic relationships— relationships that weren’t pushing me to grow but were actually holding me back.

I’ve grown up a lot in the last few years and I am getting wiser with how I steward relationships with the tough-to-love people in my life. Spoiler alert: we all can be hard to love at times. It matters that we dig in and do the hard work of taking inventory of our relationships and growing in love.

Honesty hour: Sometimes you just have to have an honest conversation (or a few dozen). Air out the room. I am not saying this is always an available option but, if you've got an open door to talk about it, I would say you should really try to be honest with the difficult person. Sometimes, it's a matter of trying to understand what is making them so on edge. What's going on there? Is there something deeper rooted that makes them angry, harsh, mean or retaliative? Sometimes the best thing we can tell ourselves is, "I don't know everything about this person. I don't know what they might be holding back."

In this uncomfortable situation, lead with love. Confront with kind words like, "Hey, I really care about you" or "Hey, I really have to be honest that my feelings are getting hurt."

Encourage, even when they don't receive positive feedback: You will never go wrong with kindness. You just won't. It's how you take the high road. You pick kindness over and over again when it would be easier to match their meanness or just stop being there for them. The world of social media actually makes it easier to encourage one another in a way that's harder to do in person. I'm not telling you to flee to a life lived only on a screen but little things like "liking" a photo or commenting on a story actually go a long way to other people. They feel affirmed. They feel seen. Even if they don't say anything, your kindness is rewarded just by picking the better route.

You're tough to love, too: Really, we all are pretty tough to love. I am an expert at pointing out my husband’s flaws. He could say the same about me. The thing about love is that it was likely never designed to not be tough. Love is an endurance challenge. It's an ever present battle. It's a fight that requires strength, stamina, and courage. Some years will beat you up, other years will give you more life than you can possibly imagine. I think there is something completely beautiful about living in 2018 and becoming the kind of people who don't give up on someone when they get tough to love.

Pray often: I've got people who are tough to love in my life and I honestly have to say so many breath prayers just to be around some of them. I pray things like: God, just be with me for this hour. God, help me to say the kinder thing. God, hold me to a higher standard. These are all not the most-fun prayers to pray but they actually work.

As hard as it is, I would invite you to the pray for the person who upsets you. Yes, you are right, these will never be easy prayers to utter or inscribe. I honestly type up my hard-to-say prayers and print them out so that I can read them out loud in the morning and the evening. Is there always heart behind them? Sadly not. But I am honest when I say to God, "Hey, I really don't feel like praying for this person but I am going to do it anyway. I am going to stop being a brat and just consider that this person might need more the prayers more than I need the comfort."

Healthy boundaries: Make no mistake, I am not proposing you hurl yourself at toxic people. I'm not telling you to show up at their house all the time and put yourself in the line of fire in the name of love. Boundaries are essential. Loving someone might mean you spend time praying for them. Loving someone might mean you spend time away from them, knowing you are not going to make them or yourself any bit better by being with them at this time. Loving someone might mean you stop initiating the text conversations and wait for them to come to you. It's essential to protect yourself from people who hurt you. It's like my friend Nate told me last year, "If you smell smoke in the kitchen, then get out of the kitchen. Otherwise, you'll start smelling like smoke." I think he was referencing something really true about us as people: we become more like the people we spend the most time with. If that person takes a real toll on your wellbeing, and you've got the space to distance yourself, then I would recommend doing so.

Also, I recommend writing down the boundaries. Tweak them as you go. Look long and hard at them. Share them with a safe person who can help you tweak, adjust, and stay accountable.

Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher is author of the book Come Matter Here and founder of More Love Letters. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Lane.   

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