Most of us feel upset or bothered by how someone has treated us at some point, especially when that person is a friend or family member. In almost all cases, there are 3 probable reasons for another person's objectionable or bothersome behavior:
1. A lack of awareness.
Suppose you have a friend who is constantly late or often changes plans at the last moment. In many cases, the reason for your friend's annoying lateness could be nothing more than a lack of awareness that you find this kind of behavior frustrating. By assertively expressing your feelings, you would presumably establish awareness in your friend that you find this behavior objectionable. Now, if the person is a real friend, someone truly invested in your comfort and contentment in the relationship, he or she will be glad to make a behavioral adjustment to enhance your happiness in the friendship. The solution for the lack-of-awareness problem is to simply inform and express. It's possible that the person simply has no idea you find the behavior distressing. So, assertively stating your objection(s) and how you really feel about it (them) is often curative and the relationship can hopefully become more mutually satisfying.
2. A lack of concern.
Once in a while, however, you might find that you are dealing with a person who really doesn't care about your happiness in a relationship. The other person might say he or she will change, but really doesn't. Usually this means you are relating to someone who is not as invested in making the relationship work as you are. In these cases, the reason for the bothersome behavior is usually a lack of genuine concern for your feeling and for what might be good for you. When you discover that such a "friend" refuses to change troublesome behavior, you can redefine your relationship as an unequally important one. Recalibrate it in your mind as less intimate and more superficial and lower the bar of your expectations, as you accept that this person is less invested in the friendship than you are.
3. A legitimate inability to do things differently.
In some cases, another person's objectionable behavior can be explained by a literal lack of ability to act differently. He or she might lack the skills necessary for considerate and reciprocally rewarding interaction. For example, he or she might have a genetically based, neurocognitive condition like autism, or struggle with ADHD, OCD complications, or some other barrier that disrupts their "flow" and makes simple activities like being on time, very challenging. On these occasions, people relate to us in bothersome, annoying, and objectionable ways because they simply have a genuine lack of ability due to a social or developmental problem that stems from their DNA and brain activity. The irksome behavior is not a purposeful decision to aggravate you. Nevertheless, as with the lack-of-concern cause, changing expectations—and acceptance of their condition—is necessary for the friendship to work.
Some socially or interpersonally challenged people can benefit from helpful, constructive input and feedback. If they are capable of learning new social routines—even if they don't fully understand emotionally why they need to change—they can compensate for a lack of "social intelligence" through mental horsepower.
If people with whom you're in a relationship consistently upset you because of how they treat you or relate to you, it's important to establish the root cause of their behavior: Is it a lack of awareness about how you feel, a lack of concern for your feelings and happiness, or a valid lack of ability to relate differently? In any case, it's important to express your observations and feelings in a responsibly assertive way, and to be prepared to lower your expectations and/or recalibrate the depth of mutual affection and intimacy in the relationship.
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!
Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.