Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
People were meant to be in relationships, and indeed, they are necessary to survive in this world since everyone needs care and nurturing for the first decade or so of life.
Relationships also define who we are as we get older. Children are affirmed, confident and highly motivated when their family relationships are strong. And as adults, the strength of one’s working relationships improves income while a solid marital or romantic relationship provides inspiration.
But despite the positive energy people may gain as they interact with the people around them, difficulties inevitably arise. Everyone is different and nobody stays the same. Eventually, due to misunderstandings or a change in views, conflicts occur. The challenge is how to deal with them in a positive manner.
Confrontation in Relationships
Most people dislike dealing with confrontations especially with people that they highly respect or love. The worry is always there that one might offend the person and possibly damage the close relationship they may have. This is why many prefer to just sweep everything under the rug, hoping that the annoying habit will go away or that the hurtful incident will be forgotten.
However, if not dealt with, whatever is disrupting the relationship may persist until there is no way to mend the hurt. Should that occur, even more disappointment and pain awaits. Moreover, continued bitterness and resentment prevent people from growing in Christ and moving forward with their lives.
Dr. David Schnarch of the Marriage & Family Health Center in Colorado calls this becoming “emotionally fused.” A person connects so many powerful emotions to another person that they can no longer separate themselves from them. These entangling bonds keep them from moving beyond where they are now. Thus, if one still values that relationship, something must be done, and fast.
For Example …
Let’s take for an example a husband and wife striving to live a Godly life together. Despite doing their best, sometimes there really are differences in personalities and upbringing. She may be very orderly while he is a tad bit sloppy.
After months of dealing with his sloppiness and seeming unconcern about him messing up what she took all afternoon to fix, she explodes over dinner saying, “Don’t realize how much effort I’ve put into cleaning up after you and the kids?! And now you are going to leave your socks on the couch and drag in mud on the floor?! Can you please put some effort into putting your things away properly and cleaning your mess?! It makes me feel like you don’t appreciate the things I do for our family!”
Now exploding at your spouse is not the best way to do things as there is a strong possibility that he will react negatively. But if he loves her, he will consider the context of what was said and make the proper adjustments.
So confrontation is a necessary part of a healthy relationship, but it needs to be done in the proper way and not through wrong methods.
What Should NOT be Done
While it is crucial to get to tackle the issue, there are some things that should be avoided.
1. Do NOT become passive aggressive
Many people wrongly believe that it is important that the “offender” knows that they are hurt, so they begin acting negatively in the hope that the offending person realizes the mistake and takes the first step to apologize and make amends.
Sadly, this method usually does not work out since people cannot read minds. Rather, new reasons for being upset with one another spring up.
2. Do NOT seek revenge
Something that is even worse than subtle aggression is revenge. A common saying is “two wrongs do not make a right” and that is true. Hurting the offender as much or even more than they hurt you will ultimately destroy your relationship.
3. Do NOT avoid the issue
There are those who choose to keep quiet instead. They tell themselves that they are simply waiting for the “right time” to share it but this time never happens. Avoiding the issue just allows the problem to build up into bitterness, eventually destroying what you have.
4. Do NOT embarrass them publicly
Some people do choose to confront the situation but with a jury of their peers, bringing up the hurts in front of friends, family or even strangers. Rather than fixing the problem, this just causes resentment, which strains the relationship even more.
What Should be Done Instead
1. DO set a time to discuss things in a friendly and private place
To make things work, you need to be proactive in mending the relationship rather than waiting for something to happen. And this is better done in a friendly and generally private area where both feel safe and comfortable. Invite them to lunch or to a coffee and then get to the point. Hopefully, the good ambiance will help soften up their heart.
2. DO consider preparing notes or a letter beforehand
Not everyone is blessed with great communication skills, especially when what will be shared is emotional and possibly quite painful. Note cards or even a letter can ensure that what you would like to communicate is understood loud and clear.
3. DO remain calm at all times
Since the objective is to fix an important relationship, it pays to stay cool and collected at all times. Being aggressive or even hysterical will not help at all.
In short, your heart has to be in the right place when you confront that important person. The idea is to mend what is broken (or bent out of shape) so that your relationship stays strong. So level with them and say, “I don’t think you realize how hurtful/offensive it is when you do “X.” It hurts/offends me because “Y,” and I’d appreciate it if you’d avoid doing it in the future.” Remember, it takes one to forgive and two to reconcile.
What if They View Things Differently?
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, you may find yourself in the difficult spot where your friend, family member, or colleague strongly disagrees with what was shared. This is especially hard if they take the offensive, choosing to blame you for your skewed view of things or your supposed selfishness or oversensitivity.
Now before you start blaming yourself for the situation, recall the purpose of your talk. If you took the time to assess your feelings beforehand and were prepared for the encounter, then it is unlikely that you are wrong. If it was big enough that you wanted to address it, then there is probably truth to your hurt.
Listen Carefully to What is Said to You
Though it may hurt, sometimes what they have to say is also true. If their arguments against you are correct, then be willing to consider their hurts as well and work out a solution together.
However, be careful that they are not gaslighting you. “Gaslighting” is a term derived from the 1940s film Gaslight (based on the play Angel Street) in which a husband uses various deceptions to convince his wife she’s crazy so she won’t be believed when she reports strange things that are actually happening.
Rather than admitting that they are wrong, gaslighters try to turn the tables around by emotionally attacking the other in the hope that their accuser will change their mind. Their attacks are rarely based on fact or reason; instead, gaslighting usually takes the form of dismissive utterances such as, “You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!”
If gaslighting IS the response, then insist on them on hearing you out and finding a rational solution together. If they still refuse, then perhaps it is time to reconsider just how important that relationship is to you.
If someone is not willing to be adult enough to consider mutual hurts, then it will be quite impossible to have a healthy relationship with them. In such circumstances, it may be better to move on without them lest they continue to take advantage of you and pull you down.
What if you can’t just pick up and leave?
Things become more complicated if the offending party is someone you cannot just leave behind. At this point, you may think that YOU are the one who is unreasonable, believing that that person can change for you. But remember, there is a big difference between differing opinions and hurtful behavior.
Should this be the case, then you ought to consider getting a third-party perspective. A Christian counselor can help you both sort out your feelings so you both do not succumb to temptation and possible retaliation. In Galatians 6:1 it says, “Brothers if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual restore them gently, but watch yourselves or you also may be tempted”.
But should that other person disagree with the idea, believing that it is a waste of their time, then you ought to still pursue such a counseling session on your own to get the appropriate advice. Your counselor can help you find a better way of communicating your concerns to the offending party to help fix what should not be broken.
“Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Redd Angelo, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “West Sumatra Volcano”, Courtesy of Marc Szeglat, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Avoidance”, Courtesy of Mario Azzi, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Sea of Calm”, Courtesy of Daniel Bowman, Unsplash.com; CC0 License