I wrote this about two weeks ago and decided to post it today.
I hope you take the time to read it all the way through. I also hope it makes sense or adds some value to your lives. Please comment if you feel so inclined (or just comment so I know you read it!).
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships, but more specifically, friendships. I think often of the times that I’ve hurt other people. And I assume there have been many times I have hurt others that I don’t even know about. If I did know about it, I’m sure I wouldn’t forget, since I still beat myself up over things I did when I was like 11. But that’s beside the point. There have also been times people have upset or frustrated me, and I haven’t told them about it.
This got me pondering the topic of communication versus confrontation. When should we express ourselves?
I believe it is very important to communicate. I think this includes positive and negative feelings. I don’t think this includes all our feelings. When we air all of our feelings, it’s more like confrontation than communication.
Our interactions with people can be very complex. We are perceived in ways we may not have intended. We make people feel things we may not have intended. This complexity brings with it the need to be extremely patient with and forgiving of others, and hope that they do the same for us. And I think that both should be offered freely, and that we don’t necessarily need to tell somebody every time we forgive them. We can just do so, and let things go. Choose your battles, so to speak.
This begs the important question: how much is too much? Well, I guess you have to be the judge of that in your own life. What things in relationships or friendships are “deal breakers” to you? For example, how often are you going to keep trying to make plans with somebody who flakes every time? Maybe you are a flaky person yourself, so this kind of thing doesn’t bother you. Or how many times are you going to want to go out with somebody who is always late? Maybe you’re always late, so tardiness just doesn’t bother you.
…Or maybe these things bother you a lot. You have to know yourself, and you have to know what you can accept, and what you can’t.
You also need to know what you expect; define your expectations. Are you the kind of person who has to hang out or have contact with people frequently? It goes without saying, you should probably find somebody who has that same idea of friendship, or who can meet those expectations. You probably have a friend you’re OK with seeing every month or two, or every year. You probably have a friend whose company you enjoy more often, or you want to talk to them every day. Some you are OK being casual acquaintances with, and others you want for closer friends. Whatever the case, you need to know what your expectations are, whether someone can meet them, and whether you want to keep them around if they can’t or won’t. It may also be worth examining whether your expectations are unrealistic.
Since people are complex, they bring lots of different things to the table. Think of each of your different friendships. It’s likely you don’t get the same thing out of each of them. Each person you know has something different to offer (I’m going to refer you to the movie Clueless for a quick review on this topic). They have different amounts of time and energy, and different ideas of what makes a good friendship. If somebody has less time or less energy to offer, does that mean you don’t want to be friends with them? Can you keep them around if they don’t meet your expectations?
I think we each have to determine what positive things somebody brings to the table, and then decide if their negatives are worth the cost. When we are friends with someone, when we accept someone, when we love someone, we embrace them completely, good and bad. Sure, we recognize what their shortcomings are. But when you’ve decided that those things aren’t deal breakers, that they’re bringing enough good into your life, the shortcomings just don’t matter. They’re not a focus.
Now, if you’ve accepted somebody, good and bad, does that mean that there are things you shouldn’t communicate to them if they do fall short? Absolutely not. If someone is a repeat offender, if they do something often enough that it has started bothering you, if it’s taxing you in some way, bring it up. If it’s hurt you deeply, if you just can’t move on without talking about it, bring it up.
It’s also quite unfair to be mad at somebody and not tell them about it. How are they supposed to fix their mistake if they don’t know they’ve made one? It’s also unfair to you, because you’re walking around with baggage, and it’s due to somebody else’s actions. You have to communicate in order to be fair and let people improve or fix things, and in order for you not to carry a burden.
And here is where I will go back to an earlier point. You need to decide what is worth mentioning. Not every single little thing is worth talking about. Some things just need to be let go—be patient and forgive freely, remember? I’d go so far as to say it’s best if you can practice letting most things go, as it will help your mind and heart feel free more often; don’t chain your feelings to the actions of others. Plus, constantly bringing up your dissatisfaction with somebody is bound to ruin your relationship. Let things go.
I’d like to take a minute to make an important clarification here. Since we’ve talked about deal breakers, defining expectations, and communicating… It’s important to note that if you haven’t made your expectations clear, and you talk to someone about something that upset you, then it is confrontation, not communication. Communication should lead to an improvement or change in the relationship.
To sum up, and answer my initial question, “When should we express ourselves?”
1. When it is impossible for you to forgive and let it go.
2. When the hurt is too deep.
3. When the offense has been repeated, and you see it affecting others too.
4. When you have defined and communicated your deal-breakers and expectations beforehand.
5. When it will lead to improvement or positive change for one or both.
With relationships, I think it’s really important to reflect often, mostly on yourself as a person rather than on the actions of others. How many of these confrontational interactions have you had? Have they been often? Have they been with the same people? Most importantly, who started these interactions?
It’s important to be honest with yourself. Have several people brought up the same topics with you? Is it something you can improve upon? Is this action of yours affecting others negatively? If it’s a personality flaw, how can you improve it?
Additionally, how many healthy, stable friendships do you have in your life? Have you lost a lot of friends? How did you lose those friendships? Are you glad to not have them anymore? Is it because they didn’t meet your expectations? Did they know your expectations?
At some point, we just have to accept what others are offering. People are complicated. They have good and bad qualities. Some of them we have no choice accepting (family). With a few people, we decide they don’t bring enough good into our lives to be worth the cost. But most people bring good and bad. Most people have a lot to offer—just maybe not the same things as you. So, can you meet them part way? Can you gladly accept what they bring to the table, dismiss their shortcomings, and bring up only the things that must be brought up?
I hope so. People are worth it.