By Guest Blogger Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form HERE.

One of my friends is an extreme negative Nelly. There is rarely a conversation that we have where she does not complain or whine about something. If her husband brings her flowers, they are the wrong color. If her child wins an award, it wasn’t presented well enough. It’s getting exhausting just to be with her. Please help me figure out what to do. She is a good friend but has sadly become extremely annoying to be around. ~ Losing My Patience

Dear Losing Patience,

You’ve been a good friend by sticking by Nelly, even when she’s bringing a downer attitude to your interactions with her. It can be difficult to be around someone who complains a lot and not take on some of their negativity yourself. Of course, it’s a choice for you whether you want to continue to stay friends with her from now on, and you may decide that you need to limit your time with her for the time being.

But, if you know there’s a great side to Nelly that’s worth hanging in the friendship for, then you can make some changes in how you interact with her so that you won’t have to be so upset by your interactions with her.

First, consider that Nelly may have something difficult going on in her life that she hasn’t been comfortable talking about with you yet. Perhaps she’s struggling in her marriage, feeling insecure about her role as a parent, or dealing with some current or past challenging experiences that you don’t know about. Sometimes, hurts that aren’t fully healed can creep out in unexpected ways, such as a negative attitude toward seemingly insignificant moments in the day.

The next time you see Nelly, you could say something like the following to her to let her know you’re there for her if something is going on: “I’ve noticed you seem kind of sad these days, and I’m wondering if there’s anything going on with you that I can help you with?” Even if she doesn’t share anything at this time, this question may prompt her to ask what you’ve noticed that makes you think she’s sad, and you could share your observations about her complaints. She may not even be aware of how she’s coming across to others by making comments like these.

Second, let Nelly know what impact her comments are having on you and your relationship. Before you do this, though, take some time for self-reflection to think through your own reactions to her complaints and why these comments are upsetting you. This will help you articulate your feelings to her and hopefully present them in a way that won’t put her on the defensive.

Third, if after you share your concerns with Nelly, she shares that her negativity is something she’d like to change, consider how you can support and encourage her in developing a more positive attitude. You may suggest she seek out counseling, especially if the negative attitude is related to some unresolved hurts in her life. It’s also possible that she’s experiencing a more serious condition, such as depression, and if that’s the case, then it’s helpful to support her in getting the help she needs.

You also can help her learn to focus on the positive side of her experiences by highlighting ways that she is fortunate. You might say, “Wow, those flowers are so beautiful. How fortunate you are to have such a thoughtful husband!,” or “I’m so impressed with your child’s award! Even if the way it was presented was a little strange, it’s such an honor for your child to be recognized in that way, and you’re doing a great job as a mom.” By hearing these words of encouragement from you, she may start to internalize them and learn to be encouraging and positive toward herself as well.

If all else fails, one of my good friends and fellow therapist, Christine Dassow, has a great tip for dealing with people with negative energy. Her advice is to imagine there’s a large drain in the room right between you and the negative person, and you can picture all the negative energy going down the drain before it reaches you.  This drain image is a powerful reminder that you can be around negative people, but you don’t need to take on their negativity as your own!

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