How To Negotiate Changed or Difficult Relationships After Loss

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As I navigate my own grief recovery journey, I’m faced with the challenge of re-negotiating my social identity. We’ve been changed by the events of the past 9 months and this has had a ripple-effect on all our relationships. For the most part it’s brought us closer to our friends and family, but in some instances, it’s introduced a distance and we haven’t yet found our ways back to each other and a new sense of normal that’s comfortable for all parties in the relationship.

This ripple-effect and need to re-negotiate relationships often happens when one or both parties are going through a big change – whether the changes you’re going through were initiated by trauma or exciting opportunities. And it can take a series of tough conversations, sometimes over a long period of time, to re-establish the closeness you had. Even if you’re not navigating big changes personally, if you have significant relationships that are difficult (who doesn’t?!), then my interview with Dr Harriet Lerner will give you some incredible gems of wisdom to help you heal and transform those relationships.

You can find and follow Harriet at She has a variety of brilliant books she’s authored, but the main one we discuss in this interview (and my favorite of all her writing) is The Dance of Anger.

Click here to download the 60min audio interview

(Right click and select “save as”)

What’s in the interview:

  • 2:24 – Harriet explains why anger isn’t the “baddie” emotion we’re often led to believe, and how anger can serve us.
  • 4:00 – What you SHOULD NOT do with your anger if you want positive results and intimate relationships.
  • 7:10 – Why “hit and run” confrontation is so ineffective.
  • 10:00 – We talked about Nelson Mandela’s confrontation style and why it was so effective in leading transformation in South Africa, as well as the role of courage in transforming significant relationships that are difficult.
  • 11:15 – Harriet shares her own experience of a very difficult conversation she had with her mother, about her father, showing how she sensitively and courageously handled a very “hot button” issue that she and her mother disagreed on.
  • 13:12 – We talk about how and why we tend to cut off emotionally intense relationships, and why it’s so important to “keep your hat in the ring” when it’s an important relationship.
  • 16:40 – Harriet explains why we keep using ineffective fighting strategies, even when they’re ineffective… and what usually motivates us to quit and try something new.
  • 21:00 – Harriet reflects on some of the myths and problems with the latest messages in popular positive psychology, as well as the other societal influences that have prevented us from using our anger in healthy ways.
  • 27:13 – Harriet talks about the importance of allowing the expression of our full selves – and how that can help us to heal, improve our self esteem, make better life decisions and nurture healthier relationships.
  • 29:57 – Harriet and I discuss the multi-dimensionality and complexity of emotions – especially in difficult relationships that are important to us. Harriet shares her thoughts on the importance of embracing the full richness of our emotions and avoiding “polarized thinking.”
  • 32:10 – Harriet explains the “over-functioning/ underfunctioning” relationship pattern, how to tell when you’re in it, and the impact this pattern has on the individuals in this relationship pattern.
  • 26:45 – Some of the things that make it so incredibly hard to break out of unhealthy relationship patterns, and how to begin creating healthy boundaries.
  • 38:00 – Harriet explains the “pursuer/ distancer” pattern, how to tell when you’re in it, the impact this pattern has on the individuals in this relationship pattern, and how to break this unhealthy pattern.
  • 43:43 – Harriet explains why, in important relationships, it never helps to rule a subject totally off-limits, but why we also need to know when we need to take “temporary distance” when we’re discussing a hot topic.
  • 48:00 – We talk about why we do “emotional manipulation” and why emotional manipulation and complaining doesn’t work when we’re navigating difficult relationships. The importance of clear-thinking and clear “bottom-line” statements is highlighted.
  • 52:50 – We talk about the liberating usefulness of seeing our relationships in terms of shared ownership of “patterns,” rather than blaming or diagnosing individuals.
  • 55:10 – We talk about managing boundaries of responsibility in relationships, and signals that can let us know that we’ve crossed the line and are either taking too much responsibility or too little responsibility for our part in our difficult relationships. This is also a *really* useful discussion of the destructive “triangle” relationship pattern!

To learn more from Harriet, find her at and grab yourself a copy of The Dance of Anger.

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