I would appreciate your advice on a difficult issue. My wife and I moved back to the country some years ago with our young family. My wife had inherited a house, which meant a great deal to her having been raised there. She is from the area, but has no family there any more. I am not from there; my extended family live elsewhere.
It is a nice area with good community spirit. The problem is we have terrible neighbours. Since the day we moved in, they have caused trouble for us — complaining about dogs/drains/fences/boundaries, you name it. He is an old-school bully.
We tried to be diplomatic, initially, but it has descended into full rows on occasion. We find this very upsetting. It doesn’t bother them — they have fallen out with half the parish, but sadly we are the ones who have to live beside them.
People have sympathised with us but, again, it is we who have to deal with them every day. It is difficult as our children are at the same rural school and the daily meet is awkward.
We completely renovated the property at substantial expense and now face the reality of being utterly miserable there. We feel we may have to move, but loathe giving into a bully. He would be thrilled to have chased us out. We don’t want our children growing up in such unpleasant circumstances. Please help.
Mary replies: What a horrible situation to find yourselves in, and you have my full sympathy. Anybody who has endured difficult neighbours will appreciate how awful it is for you.
First of all, you should put all thoughts of moving again out of your mind. You don’t want the bully to win, which he would do if you were to leave. You have invested too much in the house already, and your wife has a huge emotional attachment to it.
I wonder why he/they are being so objectionable. Perhaps they are simply jealous of all that you have done with the house and decided to make your lives miserable as a result.
Maybe they just enjoy being nasty, and, if so, one worries as to the effect all this is having on their own children. At least, you can explain to your children, in age-appropriate terms, that your neighbour is a very cross person and you don’t really know why. His own children have to live with him which, to put it mildly, cannot be a bundle of laughs.
A novel way to treat him would be with a smile! A smile can be totally disarming and he simply won’t understand what you are up to, and why. Particularly at the school gates, it would be much easier for you to smile rather than try to avoid him, which must be practically impossible in a small rural school.
Then, the next time he complains, totally agree with him in whatever he says; promise to take care of whatever he wants this time, and then do nothing. Repeat this for a number of times and watch what happens. His blood pressure will go up and up and yours will not. You’ve tried taking on the bully, which is what we have to do in any bullying situation, but things got more heated. So, instead, you are taking on a more passive role, which he won’t like at all.
Another alternative would be to call to the house with a peace offering, even though you know you’ve done nothing wrong. Tell them you are sorry that things got off on the wrong foot, that you would like to forget all that has gone before, and give them a hamper of groceries/plants/children’s games/beer or whatever you think is appropriate. It’s killing them with kindness and would totally confuse them, and hopefully lead to them questioning their actions.
In any event, it is a scientific fact that it takes less energy to be in a good mood, so even if you are being a little disingenuous, it is self-preservation for you. Also, stress causes inflammation and may be carcinogenic, so you don’t want to put your own system and blood pressure at risk.
For your own peace of mind, and relief of stress, try journaling all your interactions in a designated notebook (not your mobile phone, it is not as satisfying). Keep a note of every conversation, complaint and threat. This will serve to get it out of your system on to the page, and will also mean that you have a record of everything that happens should you need it.