I’ve heard it said that relationships give us a mirror to see ourselves, and boy was that true for me last week at my regular Sunday drop-in volleyball group in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Here’s what happened.

The first game of the day is just getting started when my occasional nemesis, Rick from Ukraine, starts doing that controlling thing he does. You know – telling people where to position themselves, moving everyone around, and making sure his team is the strongest on the court. This drives me crazy! Where I come from, you always try to set up the teams as evenly as possible in order to maximize the chances of having the closest game possible. Sadly, hyper-competitive Rick (who does NOT like to lose) rarely sees it this way. Compounding things is Rick’s communication style which is, shall we say, blunt. It’s not unusual to hear him blurt out something like “You’re no good”, “You can’t hit” or “I no set for you.” Again, I come from a different school of thought – one that strives to build people up via encouragement and affirmation. I’m also an unrepentant advocate for the underdog. So when Rick starts laying into my friend, Steph, about her supposedly poor passing skills, I kind of snap. Soon I’m yelling at Rick, he’s yelling back at me, and before I know, I find myself storming off the court, declaring “I cannot play with this guy.”

Pretty immature stuff, huh? What was I thinking (or not thinking)?!!

And yet, what was I to do – just stand there and take it? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. In fact, there seems to be 5 distinct methods for managing toxic relationships, both at work and at play. They are:

Remain a victim to it

Change it

Change your perspective of it

Accept it

Leave it

Obviously in this particular scenario on the volleyball court, I chose method #5 – I left the situation, Although, in retrospect, I wish I could have handled things more calmly and reasonably, my choice was a valid solution. I couldn’t change Rick’s behavior and I couldn’t accept it, so I got out of there.
Let’s take a closer look at the five methods.

Remain a victim to the relationship: The most passive approach, playing the victim includes accepting a feeling of loss of control. It means reconciling yourself to powerlessness, uncontrolled anger, grief and sometimes depression. Remaining a victim is the path of least resistance, to be sure, but it also decreases our energy and drains us until we feel like nothing is left.

Change the relationship: A more proactive approach, this method involves trying to find a common point of agreement with the other person that enables the relationship to continue on at an at least neutral level. If you can pull it off (through stellar communication), the relationship can often be shifted for the better. The key is for all parties involved to move from WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) to WIIFU (What’s in it for us?).

Change the relationship by changing one’s perspective of it: Rather than changing the relationship with actions and new behaviors, this approach asks you to modify and shift your own way of looking at things. How can you see the other person from a new vantage point? What qualities of him or her can you appreciate?

Accept the relationship: In this strategy, you suspend your judgment of the relationship, releasing all stress and burden. You accept the relationship as it is – as an experience that does not require anything. You’re simply at peace with where the situation is at the moment.

Leave the relationship: If you don’t like a relationship, and you can’t change it, remain in it, change the way you look at it, or accept it, you’re only remaining option is to leave/terminate it. Sometimes the individual chemistry and make up of two individuals is such that we simply cannot co-exist in a relationship. This is not good or bad, it just is.

After the volleyball game, I went up to Rick and let him know that I like and respect him off the court (which is true) but don’t share his values on the court. I then suggested that we don’t play together for a while. It didn’t feel great – in general, I’m a peace maker. In a perfect world, I would’ve found that common ground with Rick and we would’ve patched things up. But not everyone is ready or willing to change. Sometimes you just have to get out…to surround yourself with your peeps. Life is too short to swim in toxic waters.

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