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Relationship Problems? Try Going Neutral

Relationship problems take shape in many ways.

Joannie came to my office extremely angry with her mother-in-law. No matter what Joannie did, her mother-in-law was critical, inconsiderate, or never satisfied. She would show up late to events, even make snide remarks aimed at Joannie’s efforts.relationshipprobs

Why the mother-in-law seemed to go out of her way to be hurtful was beyond Joannie’s understanding. She kept trying to please, but nothing seemed to work; the MIL would not budge.

Joannie tried talking about her feelings to her mother-in-law. That backfired. The MIL made herself out to be the victim. Afterward, she held a grudge and twisted Joannie’s words. The MIL did not change.

What Changed? 

Most of the time, communicating your concerns is the most effective way to resolve relationship differences. Sometimes that doesn’t work. When this happens over and over, it can lead to frustration and resentment, especially in situations where you’re expected to get along with others regardless of their behavior — think co-workers, in-laws, relatives, and friends.

Have you ever had a friend who rarely returns your phone calls or who suddenly goes AWOL when you’re supposed to meet somewhere?

Maybe it feels like she takes your friendship efforts for granted. And the more you try to do, the worse those feelings get?

Maybe a boss repeatedly is unappreciative of your efforts and always focuses on criticizing.

If this kind of scenario sounds familiar, and you’re feeling increasingly resentful, you might need to “go neutral.”

Going neutral means doing nothing. Simply take a hiatus from trying in your relationship. It’s not that you are giving up or even getting out — it’s about taking a breather to allow your emotions to settle into a peaceful state. 

Ways You Can Go Neutral

  1. Take a break from efforts designed to please or impress.
  2. Lay off of nurturing, taking care of, or focusing on the people causing your discomfort.
  3. Take a step back and intentionally stop the cycle of victimization and resentment you experience.
  4. Shift your energy to people, places and things that feel good, make you feel appreciated.
  5. Nurture your self-esteem and personal growth.

What Not to Do

  1. Do not direct negative energy toward others: Being negative is still effort.
  2. Do not make sly comments or hurtful statements, throw mean looks, or intentionally ignore the other person.
  3. Do not hurt the other person or try to get her/him to see your perspective.
  4. Do not hope your neutral stance will lead the other person to change his or her behavior toward you.

For going neutral to work, you must have no expectations for outcome. Think of it as a rest stop where you can get your bearings and release yourself from resentment and frustration.

You Don’t Have to Completely Withdraw
Focus on expending your energy only where it feels good.

There’s Only One Person You Can Change
That’s you. Realizing this is powerful. Enacting this is even more powerful. Have you ever tried going into neutral with a difficult relationship? Tell us about it! We want to hear what you have learned. Or tell us about a relationship where this could help.

Take care,cherilynnvelandSM

Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago.
She also blogs about home, work, life and love
at She is author of the book Stop Giving It Away.

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Relationship Problems? Try Going Neutral

Cherilynn Veland, LCSW, MSW

Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. Winner of the 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Award in the Women's Issues category - Stop Giving It Away.

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APA Reference
, . (2016). Relationship Problems? Try Going Neutral. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Jun 2016
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