Why we keep difficult people in our lives, according to new study

You just can't avoid some people

Olivia Petter@oliviapetter1
Thursday 18 January 2018 14:58

In life you’re bound to come across people who grind your gears.

Maybe it’s the distant relative who pronounces your name wrong, or the friend who never returns your clothes, or the colleague who insists on using your expensive almond milk even though they’re not dairy intolerant.

Whoever it is, there’s a reason you may struggle to kick them out of your life for good, as a new study shows we primarily keep difficult people around for two reasons.

According to a team of researchers at Bar-IIan University, Tel Aviv and the University of California at Berkeley, we keep tricky people around either because we need them in some way, or because we simply cannot avoid them.

Typically, that means these people are either family members or colleagues.

Dr Shira Offer and Professor Claude Fischer analysed data from the University of California Network Study, which contains information on social ties for more than 1,100 adults in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Participants were asked to define their social relationships, naming those they would confide in, those they socialise with and those who they would call in an emergency.

They also had to name the people they had tense relationships with and describe them; these people made up 15 per cent of those named by the participants and were mostly elderly parents, close kin and female relatives.

"These are people with whom our lives are so complexly intertwined," said Dr. Offer.

"Many are close family whom we need and even love; others we just can't escape.

“Social norms do not allow us to simply walk away from them, however much this might be tempting to do sometimes."

In terms of what defines a difficult relationship, researchers found one key commonality was feeling like that someone wasn’t offering you the same level of support that you offered them.

They identified parental relationships as particularly difficult.

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