Monday, November 8, 2010

Wounds from a Friend

A friend of mine made an odd comment today that is really bugging me. I wish I could just "let it go", but I can't. My husband encouraged me not to take it personally, but it sort of was. I want to ask her about it, but I know she doesn't handle confrontation well. However, if I don't resolve it, I know it will affect our relationship anyway. Bleh. I dislike these situations. What would you do in a situation like this? Or if you've experienced something similar, did you say something? Did you ignore it and move on? What was the outcome?

I once confronted a friend about some long drawn out issues and it was not received well at all. I never wanted to bring it up in the first place. I knew it would be uncomfortable, although I didn't realize it would end our relationship. I addressed my concerns in the most honest and loving way I knew how...I genuinely loved her dearly. But she was unwilling to acknowledge or admit any wrongdoing...and I was unwilling to invest any more of myself in a friendship that lacked honesty. Here I am, eight years later...still saddened by the memory of our exchange that day.

While truth is beautiful and valuable, it is not always pleasant.  Very often, it is not easily expressed - and generally even less easily accepted, especially when it comes to truth about ourselves.  While lies and issue-skirting leave a tangled mess for us to forge our way through later on, in a moment of discomfort, humanity tends to favor these over truth.  It is much safer to float along the surface than it is to dive a little deeper and risk facing the pressure of a current; so we remain shallow in our relationships.

When my husband and I were "dating" [if you could call our pre-marriage relationship a "dating" relationship], we had been in disagreement over something...I can't even remember what now...and I just shut down. I refused to discuss it, and tuned out what he had to say. After what felt like a very long silent drive back to my parents’ house, he parked the car and looked at me and said to me, "Heather, if this relationship is going to work, you have to learn to communicate. I cannot have a relationship with you if you don't learn how to talk about things. We need to be able to resolve conflict, not ignore it. So, you need to decide to work on this, or I can't continue this relationship."  Those were harsh words for my already wounded spirit to hear.

He was very patient and gracious with me...and continues to I forced myself to talk about difficult things in a healthy way. It was not until after a couple years of marriage that I finally learned how to have an argument without yelling...or storming into another room and slamming the door behind me...or just "checking out" of the conversation and staring off blankly at nothing in an attempt to disengage in the discomfort of our confrontation. He has helped me see the benefit in open communication. And gently forced me to address issues I would have never dealt with apart from his willingness to say the hard things, often making himself vulnerable in the process with phrases like, "How have I contributed to this?" or "If I've done wrong, please tell me, and forgive me."

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips." [Proverbs 24:6] This is a verse I often thought of when J. and I were struggling through difficult conversations. He never kissed my lips until the day we were married...and I knew that being honest with him was a way I could love him purely while we were "dating". I know it might sound weird, but honesty is really intimate. I think only my closest friends and family are willing to either ask or answer honest questions. If a stranger says, “Hi, how are you,” the correct answer is always, “Good”; it is not really a genuine question - a brief summary of your current condition would be awkward, and likely unwelcome. By contrast, when someone you trust asks the same question, the answer varies. The question is honest, and so is the reply.

I remember early in our marriage times when he would sit stubbornly and patiently for who even knows how long and wait…wait until I was willing to listen and willing to talk about things. And that was AFTER I had really worked on communicating with him before we got married...can you imagine how poor my conversing skills were prior to his ultimatum?! I was blessed to have been given such a kind and gracious man.

It makes perfect sense that we shirk from the difficult conversations. But, sadly, that keeps us from growing. If I refuse to receive criticism from others, and if I run from correction and refuse to acknowledge my fault and ask will I ever become better? There is no honesty in a relationship that dances around deep issues. That kind of friendship is cheap. It's easy. I know someone truly loves me when he or she is willing to risk my opinion of them in an effort to help me grow. It's generally pretty obvious when words are spoken with care and concern, vs. a motive of self-assertion and callous fault-finding. The words may sting either way, but wounds from a friend can be trusted...while an enemy multiplies kisses [Proverbs 27:6].

Point being...when you love somebody, you say the hard things when they need to be said. If someone is not that important to you, the risk, the discomfort and uneasiness of confrontation just isn't worth it. Do you have someone in your life that you allow to speak those difficult-to-hear truths into your life? Are you a friend who cares enough to offer loving correction, even when it's not well-received...or easy to give? And are you willing to engage with others in a meaningful way? I've found that many of us [myself included] resist the nitty-gritty of conflict resolution using a wide variety of tactics to dodge the ball and skirt around the issues. And many of us [I'm also guilty here too] have grown so accustomed to shallow interaction, that we don't even realize the hollow state of our relationships.

I still don't know if I will talk with my friend. Not because I am afraid to, I just feel pretty confident it will not end pretty, and wonder if it is even worth it. [Some battles need to be fought, others are less important.] But, the fact that I struggle with whether it's ok to be honest with her or not kind of puts perspective on the depth of our friendship doesn't it?


  1. I saw a sign on Francis the other day...
    "An honest answer ... is like a kiss on the lips" the very verse you quoted!

    I'd say the keyword is "answer."

  2. Heather. Thanks for following along as I am anything but a "good" blogger these past few months. So happy for you about your move...we are getting close, but not quite there yet.

    About your friend. I had a very similar situation end badly several years ago and it is just now mending. I would say, no matter what, it sounds like your relationship has already changed. Some people just do not receive things well (even spoken in kind truth). I have come to accept that relationships evolve and as long as my marriage and family stay strong, that is what is most important. My husband is my rock (and also the one who "tells me like it is" when it needs to be done)


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