On the Importance of Conflict in Friendship

Do you find yourself in the midst of a stormy conflict with a friend? Are you worried that your friendship cannot withstand the stress of a conflict? What if you don’t bring up your concerns, then what?

It can be hard to suddenly realize you have entered into conflict with a friend. You might have been peacefully sailing along for years in your friendship and suddenly find yourselves in this uncharted water. Now what? Well, short of abandoning ship, you have many options. And you will learn a lot about yourself, your friend and your friendship as you navigate this new and unfamiliar territory.

Generally, conflict is unsettling. It can feel confusing, sad, and scary. Growing up, we all learn different ways to view and deal with conflict. We learn how to handle conflict from our parents, our family, our teachers and schools.

Conflict does not necessarily mean your friendship is over. On the contrary, conflict can be an opportunity for change and growth in relationships, every relationship, rather than being a bad thing or the end of a friendship. In fact, resolving a conflict effectively usually brings people closer.

For some of us, avoidance of conflict in friendships is our approach of choice. We might fear the outcome. We might be uncomfortable with what we believe will happen. We might prefer having a tooth pulled to the discomfort conjured by conflict! Whatever the reason, many people avoid conflict.

The thing is, avoiding it does not make the conflict go away. It does make the issue go unaddressed which can lead to simmering resentment and an erosion of trust in the friendship. Yet we have to pick our battles, so to speak. It might not serve your friendship to get into a conflict over every difference of opinion.

Treat your friends like you do your best pictures; place them in the best light.” ~ Jennie Jerome Churchill

Some strategies and tips for managing conflict with a friend:

An important mindset that can be a helpful approach to conflict with a friend is to be respectful — of your friend, yourself and your relationship. Create the intention that you will be respectful in your conversation about the conflict.

Listen fully and quietly to your friend’s opinions, thoughts and concerns — without thinking of what you will say in response. Simply listen.

Prepare what you want to say or share – use I statements and address the behaviour or action that is causing the conflict for you.

Try to see your friend’s perspective. This can be very challenging. Particularly if your friend’s perspective is one you have difficulty imagining. Sometimes these differences are deal-breakers. Sometimes not. Is there a difference in values or beliefs that you can respect in each other while still staying connected?

Share your feelings while keeping your emotions regulated. If you find yourself heating up, can you ask for a break and return to the conversation once you have cooled off?

Talk about your deal-breakers – identify the issues and values that are important to each of you. Knowing them, sharing them, talking about them and communicating when there has been a trespass can mean the difference between a positive and negative ending in a friendship.

It is through resolving conflict that understanding and trust in a friendship build and deepen.

Have you been putting off facing an issue in a friendship?
How will you approach conflict in a friendship?
If you know your friend has an issue with you, how will you raise it?



The Smart Art of Friendship: Great Expectations?

We all have expectations of our friends and friendships at one time or another, whether we express them or not. It has been said that: “Unexpressed expectations can be premature resentments.” We have all likely had the experience of sensing that a friend is unhappy with us and not really knowing why. This lack of knowing can be confusing and sometimes even harmful to a friendship. Expressing and being clear about your expectations, what you want or need, and what you can offer your friends is paramount to the health of your friendships.

Going through a health crisis or a major loss in our lives can magnify the impact of unexpressed expectations. We might expect a friend to be there for us when we go through a challenging time, a loss or a transition in our lives. It can be disappointing and feel quite hurtful to learn that our friend is not available or able to be there for us. One example that we can all relate to at some point is when someone experiences a health crisis or a frightening health diagnosis.

On the one hand, the person experiencing a loss or health crisis might expect their friend to:

  • listen their worst fears or worries
  • be able to understand and know exactly what to say
  • accompany them to appointments or to at least to make an offer
  • pick up food or prescriptions
  • call and check up on them

And on the other hand, the friend of the person experiencing the loss or health crisis might:

  • be fearful of intruding
  • be afraid of losing her friend
  • feel as though they should know what to do and say
  • expect their friend to be explicit about what they need
  • expect their friend to clearly ask for help

And from either perspective, a dynamic between two friends can be triggered or intensified by a health crisis or loss. This shift requires both people to work at being really clear with themselves and each other about their needs and expectations, without judgement or blaming.

While a major health crisis might magnify where expectations are not being expressed; everyday or ongoing events without clear expectations can similarly impact a friendship.

One example is how we relate to time on a daily basis and whether we prefer spontaneity, reliability, structure or flow. We might, for example, expect our friend to be okay with our being 10-15 minutes late to meet them. When in reality, punctuality is one of their most highly held values. If our friend tells us how important being on time is to them, then we have the opportunity to adjust our behavior and to be sure to be on time for that friend (even if punctuality is not one of our personal top values). But, if our friend is not clear about their expectations about time, then we are left guessing and we might not change what we are doing which could lead to further disappointment or hurt.

Tend to your friendships by clearly identifying and expressing your expectations.

Questions you might ponder or ask your friend(s):

  • Are you clear with your friends when you have expectations?
  • Do you express your expectations directly?
  • Do ask your friends to let you know what they expect of you?

Copyrighted 2013 – The Smart Art of Friendship- Ruth Tamari and Amy Greenleaf Brassert