“Ask a Priest: What If My Co-worker Gets on My Nerves?”

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Q: I’m a new Catholic. At work, my ambulance partner often does things that get under my skin or she intentionally tries to get on my nerves. She has told me that I was a bad partner. Some days she doesn’t even talk to me for the whole 14-hour shift. I’ve found that this often leads me into the trap of becoming resentful and asking things like, “If you don’t like working with me, why haven’t you asked for a new partner?” She also used to be a Catholic, but has since rejected it and, knowing Catholic doctrine, intentionally points out beautiful nurses in hospitals as a joke to tempt me into sin. Is my resentfulness at points and my sometimes passive-aggressive behavior in frustration mortal sin, over and over again? – A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about the situation. The fact that your partner is a fallen-away Catholic, gives you the silent treatment for 14 hours at a stretch, and tries to tempt you about the nurses, is a sign that she has deep problems of her own.

I won’t try to guess what those problems might be. But perhaps a few observations might help.

First, try to remember that your partner is a beloved daughter of God. Jesus suffered and died for her on a cross, and he only wants her happiness and holiness. This will help you to view her from Our Lord’s perspective and with more compassion.

Second, it’s no coincidence that you are her work partner. Perhaps Our Lord has you by her side to influence her in a positive way. So, you want to see her as someone who needs to be evangelized.

Your charity could help bring her back to the faith. Your e-mail implies that she tempts you precisely because she knows you are Catholic, and a new one at that. Catholicism might still mean something to her. Her “humor” might be a way of trying to ease her own conscience about her relationship with the faith.

Third, and this follows on the previous point: try to see this woman as part of your mission in life. You are here to bring her the love of Christ.

God doesn’t allow difficulties in our life unless he can bring something good out of it. This partner, oddly enough, could be your path to holiness. “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Fourth, try to be objective and see if there is anything you might be doing that rubbed your partner the wrong way. You mention that she said you were a bad partner.

What does all of the above mean in practice?

It means praying for her each day. It means being proactive in your charity with her. You might thank her or compliment her on little things she does during the day — the extra service she shows toward a patient, for instance.

Make a point of not saying anything negative toward her. Try to maintain an atmosphere of Christ-like love as much as possible.

As for your passive aggressive behavior: Try to work on fortitude and assertiveness. Avoid the temptation to do anything that seems sneaky or underhanded. Instead, say what needs to be said, gently but firmly. And be quick to apologize when you are at fault.

If you need to take anything to the confessional, by all means do so.

As for the gravity of the sin in every situation, that is hard to tell. Suffice it to say by trying to cultivate your prayer life and sacramental life, and by working on charity, you will open yourself to God’s grace and go a long way in taming the anger.

One other consideration: Your ability to work as a team could impact the quality of care you give to patients. If the tensions drag on, you might want to approach your supervisor about a change of partner, at least for the sake of the patients.

In any case, you can still pray for your partner. That can help to bring the healing she needs.

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