I’ve been thinking about and researching and brainstorming and drafting an article about this for the last number of months. Every week while I’m prepping I come back to this idea and decide not to go with it. I know that learning how to address issues in interpersonal relationships is a huge deal. I’m a full grown adult woman who has a family, friends and a job dealing with people. I know relational conflict. I’ve read articles and borrowed books and taken classes. It seems like after about 20 years of practice I would be able to whip out a thought provoking and helpful discussion about how to address the challenges that we face in our relationships. I should be able to tell you what to do when people offend you, how to handle hurt at the hands of your friends, what to say when something is amiss in your relationships.
But I don’t have any life changing answers. After more than 10 years with the same four best friends, there’s only one I’ve spoken to in the last month. It pains me to say it, but the last time I told someone who wasn’t my husband that they had hurt or angered me, I was 17 and sharing a house with 6 other people.
Why is this stuff so challenging? Why, when I’m trying to explain my opinion to a coworker do I say something that I inevitably feel was taken as hurtful leading to a cascading email chain in which we both get confused? We want connection enough to spend hours online looking at photos and videos of strangers who look friendly and interesting, but not enough to actually call someone. FRIENDSHIP MEME JESUS In my most successful relationship the other person has a legal document saying he’ll work it out with me.
Why have we as a generation, or maybe a society, gotten so bad at this? I hesitate to call out the entirety of society, but since no one has had a heart to heart with me in a decade, it seems pretty obvious that we’re all in this together.
“Dying is easy young man, living is harder.”
Breaking up, “losing touch”, cutting out, ditching, whatever you call it, letting our relationships coast always feels like the less costly option. So a statement made by a friend rubbed you the wrong way. There are a million ways that talking with them about it could end painfully for you, whereas just letting it go maintains status quo. Things won’t move forward or get better, but at least they won’t get worse. Except, that’s not the way things work. Entropy is as real in relationships as it is in every other aspect of life. If you aren’t growing, you’re dying. If your relationship isn’t moving forward, it’s moving backward. I can personally attest to the fact that letting relationships fade is easy, in fact it requires no work at all. Building them in spite of challenges is actual work.
“Now we got problems, and I don’t think we can solve ‘em.”
Sometimes the idea of having to talk with another person about the pain they have caused seems like investing money during a market crash. If you’re already planning to sever all connection with someone, pouring more time and energy into your relationship and opening yourself to more pain and frustration in the process seems fairly counterintuitive, especially in a society in which intentionally losing friends is fairly de rigueur.
Countless things that could go wrong when trying to work through a conflict, but there is just as much potential for growth and benefit. There’s a reason an entire fictional holiday is based around “the airing of grievances”. When we confront the important people in our lives with our perspective, make them aware of how their comments can be taken, inform them of our disappointed expectations we create an atmosphere for growth all around. Whether we plan to continue with that relationship or not, we will forever be in relationship and practicing this skill is transferrable. This conversation allows the other person to tell their side of the story, and whether it changes your decision or attitude toward them or not, thinking from someone else’s perspective is always a beneficial practice.
I can’t in good conscience encourage you to start confronting your friends and families with their offenses without thinking about how best to mitigate negative repercussions while working to ensure positive ones. My go to plan is to spend time before the actual conversation thinking about my desired outcome, and what I can reasonably expect from the other person. Sometimes my only goal is just explain the change in my behavior that occurred based on their action. Other times all I want is you to know that the thing you said was way over the line.
“I think some company is overdue. I’ve started talking to the pictures on the walls.”
With the incredible access to entertainment, celebrities, and online personalities, we are incentivized to forgo painful and challenging conflict in favor of an easier route. I miss the connection I used to have to all the friends I’ve lost touch with over the years. Yet, when I think of calling to check in or inviting them to hang out, the idea of having to work at it scares my instant gratification motivated brain into instead hitting play on another episode on Netflix. Aside from deciding that the work involved in having these hard discussions is worth the relationship, we also have to decide that a real relationship, with a person who may let you down, and will constantly take some effort, is worth more than a virtual one.
The Internet is a huge resource in making friends and maintaining friendships with the people we don’t live near. As the proud Internet friend of dozens of people who I’ve only met a few times, I can vouch for the “realness” of people online. Even on this site I’ve talked about being able to find your tribe online, especially when you can’t find them in person. But you aren’t actually friends with Kylie Jenner or Jenna Marbles, are you? Content creators on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat etc. are really good at making you feel like you are in their living room, hanging out, sharing life, but in reality we’re foregoing real life connection, accountability and intimacy for a cheap counterfeit.
“You got troubles, I’ve got ’em too. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you”
Relationships are messy, we can all attest to that, and we’ve all learned to manage them in different ways. Some of us learned to fight, to make our grievances known loud and clear, and to seek acknowledgement and restitution. Others were taught to be tough, to hide their hurt and frustration and attempt to deal with it on their own. Is it any wonder that when those kids grow up they have a hard time understanding others and being understood? We have distorted views of ourselves that we assume others share. They say one thing and we hear another based on our self-image. We take on the negative feelings of others and let their anger change our perceptions. We get hurt, we hurt others. Others see our actions as harmful, we feel stifled. We call, they don’t. They text, we forget to reply.
Truth is, it’s always been like this. It’s always been easier to ignore the sleight, move on and just hope it doesn’t happen again. Choosing to discuss and grow will always be the more challenging option. If you’re here though, it’s because you know that easier is not always healthier or better.
“In the end, it’s better to say to much, than never to say what you need to say…”
The reason we haven’t had this discussion before, is because I don’t have any answers. It’s been a long time brewing though, and I know that we need to talk about it. I’m as bad at this stuff as everyone else, I’m afraid. I get nervous that if I talk with someone about our issues that I’ll get more hurt, or they won’t understand or they’ll think poorly of me. I struggle to make new and lasting friendships because that takes work and vulnerability. I struggle with myself and wonder how to make my insecurities work in a relationship with someone else. At the end of the day I remember that if we want to have relationships, we have to work at them.
This week it’s my goal to have more tough conversations. To talk honestly about my feelings in the relationships that I value. To invest in my friends by apologizing for hurtful statements, or downright neglect. I want to start to cultivate an environment of emotional honesty and maturity. I hope you’ll join me ❤