Forgiving. Forgiveness. For Good.


On the heels of our previous blog post on Conflict and The Four Horsemen, we started to talk about forgiveness and what it means for friendship. Why is it important in friendships?

What does it mean to forgive following a conflict or in the face of unmet expectations?  In this blog post, we are talking about forgiving hurts, disappointments, let downs, humiliations, feeling left out, or feeling exposed without your permission (and more.)

Forgiving is not easy, especially for those of us who stockpile our hurts with a layer of resentment on top of it. Forgiving goes hand in hand with being able to be in conflict with each other which can be quite uncomfortable.

“Although it can be painful, sometimes a person we love seeks distance that we have to accept. Our friends are free to be friends with whomever they choose. Their feelings for us may wax and wane. We want everyone we love to be loyal and stable figures in our lives, but we can’t always have that. Change and impermanence are part of every relationship, and we can’t hold the clock still, much as we may try.”
~Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Connection

Sometimes forgiving is connected to what John Gottman refers to as repairing a rupture in your friendship. In relational terms repair is about getting back on track. And it allows for resilience to grow in your relationship. And, as it turns out, it is the recipient of repair that makes the difference along with how we choose to maintain friendship, intimacy and emotional connection.

Gottman describes a repair attempt as “any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control.” If we need to, how can we develop these strategies within our friendships?

Forgiveness does not mean you are condoning what your friend did or said, or what happened, or didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean forgetting either or that you have to go back to the friendship. It might be part of the letting go process in a friendship.

Forgiving is for ourselves, not for the other person. Holding onto a hurt or a grudge can turn into bitterness and can become toxic within ourselves. It is for our own mental and physical health that we forgive ourselves and others.

The process of forgiving is owning what is our part in what happened. What is our role in what unfolded and how do we make amends? It takes courage to let someone know you have been hurt.

In his book, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, Fred Luskin delves into forgiveness in all kinds of relationships.

“Forgiveness helps people control their emotions so they maintain good judgment. They do not waste precious energy trapped in anger and hurt over things they can do nothing about. Forgiveness acknowledges we can’t change the past. Forgiveness allows us not to stay stuck in the past.” ~Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good

While there is no *right* way to forgive, here are some guidelines:

  • Be genuine: apologize from the heart.
  • Be clear with your boundaries: in other words, be clear about what is OK and not Ok with you.
  • Know your own hot buttons.
  • Consider and share: how are we going to go forward differently?
  • You might want to write your very personal, raw, angry, unfiltered rough draft of your perspective. Do not send it. Keep writing and rewriting until, perhaps, you have words you can share with your friend.

It can be humbling and healing to forgive. It takes courage and self-awareness to acknowledge and accept our own flaws. Embracing our differences and understanding that conflict offers us opportunities to learn about ourselves and our friends.

1Perhaps we can imagine that forgiveness is a suspension bridge that keeps the lines of communication open and allows us to see each other more clearly.

“Forgiveness is the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel, and become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell.” ~Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good

Conflict in Friendship: The Four Horsemen

Here is an idea about conflict in friendship: you can find inner-peace and a deeper connection with your friends, through conflict. We are discussing conflict in the context of a friendship that means a lot to you, you care about each other and this is a connection where there is more at stake. The conflict may cause hurt and/or harm to both people in the friendship and there is potentially more to lose.

Many friendships end when we reach a place of conflict. How we deal with it, or don’t deal with it, can impact our friendship and often we don’t know how to successfully navigate a conflict in our friendship.

Here’s what we mean by conflict: conflict is a strong disagreement between two people. It can be a difference of opinion, when opinions clash or when someone does something we perceive as offensive, insensitive or insulting.

We might not see the connection between how we are as a friend and how we are as a daughter, sibling, parent, partner, etc. It is likely that how we deal with conflict and our conflict style is something most likely learned from our family. It is probably similar across all our relationships including our friendships. It is difficult to acknowledge how ugly we can be in conflict, and it is humbling.

In his research on relationships, Dr. John Gottman discovered four main ways that we deal with conflict or difficult conversations. He called them The Four Horsemen. They are Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt.


How do the Four Horsemen show up in friendship?

Criticism – When we attack our friend at their core, dismantling their whole being with criticism (different from voicing a complaint or offering a critique of a behaviour). When we criticize our friend, we are basically implying there is something wrong with them. Our friend becomes the focus of the problem instead of seeing it as problem between the two of you that you can share and solve together.

Defensiveness – When we perceive ourselves to be threatened or attacked by our friend, we feel the need to defend ourselves with reasons and/or excuses. We often see ourselves as a victim. We might respond in a way that blames our friend.

Stonewalling – When we withdraw from the interaction, when one person closes themselves off from the other in silence without communicating an intent to return to the conversation or friendship. Rather than addressing the issue with our friend we make evasive maneuvers such as tuning out, turning away, or acting “busy.”

Contempt – When we are truly mean, treating our friend with disrespect, making hurtful comments, mocking them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, and/or body language such as eye-rolling. The target of contempt is made to feel worthless and despised.

What if we look at conflicts in our friendships through the lens of the Four Horsemen? Awareness of the Four Horsemen can be really helpful, knowing which ones are our default(s), our fall-back behaviours, and the ones we are most drawn to out of familiarity.

Being able to identify The Four Horsemen in conflicts with our friends is a necessary first step to eliminating them, but this knowledge is not enough. To drive away destructive communication patterns, we must replace them with healthy, productive ones. Checking in with ourselves about which of the Four Horsemen is showing up in our response to our friend(s) is a great first step.

Pay close attention the next time you find yourself engaged in a difficult conversation, argument or conflict with your friend. See if you can spot any of The Four Horsemen, and try to observe their effects on you and the people involved.

Being open to and getting through conflict has the potential to develop trust and intimacy in friendships. Knowing that both of you are ready and willing to stay, listen to each other’s perspective and work through the conflict will strengthen your friendship and deepen your trust. It is great for your emotional health, psychological health and social health.

Questions you might ask yourself:
* How do we take responsibility for our part in conflict?
* What if I behave in a way that upsets my friend, and they don’t tell me?
* Are we both willing to work out the conflict(s)? How do you know?

“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass