You are so furious! First, he called you last minute to tell you he couldn’t do the kids’ soccer run. Then he turns up late to pick them up for the weekend even though you specifically told him you had plans!

He, of course is Peter, your ex-husband, and you’re getting a very strong hunch that he’s going out of his way to be uncooperative.

You find yourself lying in bed at night thinking about it. Every time you rerun the situation in your mind you get a little bit angrier. You start to dream up ways you can get back at him and think of things to say that you know will antagonize him.

The situation above is a typical example of a ‘spiral of negative thinking’. We’re all guilty of it from time to time, but the important thing is to recognise when it is happening and know what we can do to break out of it. The longer these kind of thinking patterns go on, the more harm they do to our relationships, not to mention our own state of mind. Remember that communication is a dynamic and we each have our part to play. It’s possible that our reactions to someone’s behaviour can contribute to the deterioration of a relationship too.

So what can we do when another person just doesn’t meet our expectations? Firstly, focus not on what they have done, but how you are going to deal with it. We can’t change the past, but we can change how we perceive it and what we do about it.

Secondly, let go of the ever-building litany of complaints that you are carrying around in your head about the other person. This is a burden you don’t need, and it is almost certainly affecting your communication with them.

Thirdly, focus on what you would like to see changed and express it to the other person as calmly and respectfully as possible. This isn’t a guarantee that their behaviour will change, but at least you know you have done what you can.

Finally, remember that you can’t control anyone but yourself. Taking charge of your own reactions and responses will make you feel better and give you a much better chance of generating improvements in your relationships.

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