What do you do with it? Are you a paste-a-smile-on-and-hide-it person? A sweep-it-under-the-rug person? A cold-shoulder person? A hot-headed, be-honest-no-matter-who-it-hurts person?
I’ll be completely honest. This is not an area that I historically have been all that good at. I come from a long line of under-the-rug sweepers, and have friendships I can look back with the realization that I pulled away rather than sought to resolve a problem. And I know that I have been the one to hurt a friend at times and, 20/20 being hindsight, look back with a critical eye at my own insensitivity.
Lisa Whelchel, in her book Friendship for Grown-Ups, borrows the idea from an author friend that insensitivities and hurts are little “bricks” that lay between friends:
When conflict arises (which, if a friendship is close and it endures, probably will happen at some point) what would it feel like to say, “I’d love to talk with you about something. You are so important to me and I want to make sure I’m understanding you right, and not assuming something you didn’t intend.”
Or, “I realized recently that you were very upset and I wanted to see how I added to that. I may have hurt you with my words and I want to apologize to you. I appreciate you too much to let this slip away unresolved.”
Or, “Can we talk about the other day? I was hurt by your decision to go with so-and-so rather than me, and I wanted to tell you my feelings before my desire to sweep them under the rug got the best of me. I care about our friendship too much to let that happen.”
Conflict doesn’t have to look like it did in our families growing up. The word “conflict” is not a bad word in itself, but most people’s default way of handling it is not healthy. There are skills that can be practiced and learned. And aren’t our friendships worth it?
Nouwen, above, calls it the “complexity of intimacy between two people” and I think he’s right. At its most deep and abiding, friendship is true and honest and doesn’t shy away from the fact that both people are bringing in baggage and bad habits, personality flaws and misunderstandings. It will inevitably be complex.
And my hope and prayer is that I will mature enough to give my friendships what they truly deserve: loving honesty, forgiveness, and the chance to withstand conflict if and when it occurs.
(A book that helped me tremendously in conflicts in my church work, and later even with family, is Crucial Conversations. The tools I learned when reading this book would benefit the outcome of any conflict, be it personal or work-related.)