And Preserve Your Sanity in the Process
by Cherie Fresonke, @cheriefresonke
Do you have a high maintenance person in your life? Do you groan when you see that person’s name on your caller ID? Or perhaps, you want to run the other way when you see that person walking towards you? Does it feel, at times, as if this person wants to suck you dry?
When I first started discipling, I collected high maintenance people much like my daughters collected Bennie Babies. (Since my girls are both in their thirties, you can see that this was some time ago.) I wanted to help the person, but I also quickly saw that my family paid a high price. The phone always seemed to ring around dinnertime or just when my husband got home from work. What I hoped would be a five-minute phone call, could turn into 30 or 60 minutes in a blink of an eye.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was being played. I quickly learned there is a more effective way that can offer real help to the hurting high maintenance person. But before we get to that, let’s talk about life’s priorities.
For me, it needs to be God first, family second and ministry third. And if you truly want to have the family life of your dreams, this would be a good foundation for you to build on as well.
Some might ask, “Aren’t I placing God first in my life, if I am helping this person?” Not necessarily. In writing about the leadership position of deacons, Timothy pens:
Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
—1 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)
When we disciple others, people look up to us. We become a person of leadership to the one we are discipling. Therefore, if we desire to disciple others, we too, need to manage our household well. If we are allowing someone outside of our families to take us away from managing our own children and our own households, then I believe we’ve missed the mark.
And in all honesty, if you are spending hour after hour after hour with a high maintenance person, you’re not helping that person. You might think you are, but you’re not. You’re enabling bad behavior. Let me explain.
Most high maintenance people love to control and manipulate. In many cases, these types of people want to see if you will play their game. Unfortunately, those who have the gift of mercy, or those who truly want to be used by God, can play into the hands of a master manipulator without even realizing it. Thus you think you’re helping, but you are not.
So what do you do? How can you effectively help a high maintenance person?
First, offer a real solutions, such as Go in Peace Biblical Discipleship Program
Whenever a new high maintenance person starts to hang around me, I offer to meet with the person once a week for discipleship. Or if I have a Go in Peace Weekend scheduled in the near future, I invite the person to attend. By offering real, practical aid to help set the person free, I take care of what could have turned into a problem immediately. If you want more information about this program, click on the links above. It’s simple and easy to use.
Second, set healthy boundaries
Early on, I learned to set healthy boundaries to protect my family time. Once my husband gets home from work and especially close to dinnertime, I let all phone calls go to voice mail. I check them to make sure there isn’t an emergency. I then return the calls during my allotted time for ministry the following day.
Also, when my children were young, I had a special family day each week. Nothing was scheduled during this time. No appointments. No can you please meet me? I’ve got to see you. No, nothing. It was our family fun time, our day of rest. I encourage you to set aside this time as well.
If you find this a difficult task to do, put your family time on the calendar in your phone. Simply write “Appointment with F.T.” “F.T.” is for Family Time. If the high maintenance person is looking over your shoulder at your calendar, hoping to set an appointment with you, the person can see that your schedule is already set and that you only have a few slots open to meet. The slots you pick.
Third, listen for only a few minutes
When you do take that call, keep it short. Listen to the person’s struggles, but for only a few minutes–five, ten at the most. Offer words of encouragement and then move quickly to step four.
Fourth, offer to pray for the high maintenance person
This step is one of the most important steps in dealing constructively with a high maintenance person. After listening for a few minutes, just say, “Let me pray for you, right now.” After the prayer is over, move on to step five.
Fifth, end the call or surprise meeting quickly
End the phone call or that surprised meeting with “I’ve got to run now. I’ve got something on my calendar.” I used to feel guilty when I first started handling high maintenance people this way. But I do have other things on my schedule. It might be preparing dinner for my family. Or shopping with my mom. Or whatever. There are chores on my schedule for that day that must be completed. So, if you are like me, don’t feel guilty. Instead, know that you are setting healthy boundaries. Plus, you’re not enabling bad behavior in the high maintenance person.
Six, check back with the person on your terms
When you stop playing the high maintenance person’s game, one of two things will happen.
If the person really wants help and really wants to change, you will see growth in their lives. Real fruit will flourish.
On the other hand, the person who doesn’t want to change will move on to manipulate someone else. But if this is the case, don’t fret. Occasionally, I’ve had this type of person return to see me when they’re finally ready for real change in their life.
Do you see what can happen by following these six easy steps to help high maintenance people? You plant healthy seeds of growth in their life and in God’s timing those seeds will bear fruit.
For those of you who run into high maintenance people in your career, especially a high maintenance client, click here for an excellent article by Michael Hyatt.
Do you have any constructive ideas about dealing with high maintenance people? Please leave a comment. I know that I, and others, will enjoy your creativity in how to help this type of person effectively.
© 2017 by Cherie Fresonke