Friendships in Conflict

We are not our best selves right now. We are navigating a pandemic, anticipating an election, living in isolation, learning to do everything online…anxiety is skyrocketing. If you find yourself a little more short-tempered, annoyed, defensive, avoidant, or paranoid in your friendships, it’s not surprising. Conflict is to be expected.

We are experts in conflict resolution: forgive, put yourself in their shoes, ask open-ended questions, etc. But even when we know exactly what we need to do to repair our friendships, there is a part of us that stubbornly resists taking that next step. Perhaps you can relate to Paul when he says, “I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate” (Romans 7:15).

Mending our friendships is not just about knowing the right thing to do. Rather, it’s about getting the most stubborn parts of ourselves to agree to do what is right. And there lies the greatest challenge.

When a roommate gets annoyed with you for failing to take out the trash, the answer is simple: apologize and go take out the trash. But why, then, does this tiff lead to an eroding friendship? It’s because there’s an inner part of you who doesn’t just hear, “take out the trash.” It hears, “you’re a failure” or “you’re not allowed to be tired…you are not as important to me as a clean house.” And that part of you that feels it must protect itself from all the wounds of childhood, shuts down in paralysis or lashes out in anger at your roommate…who just wanted you to take out the trash.

One of the most mature things you can do in conflict is to access that deeper part of yourself and nurture it. Listen to your soul to discover what part of you is hurting, and speak back to it: “No, you’re not a failure. Of course you’re tired (you’re in a pandemic!)” And only from that place of compassion, will you find the courage to do what is needed to mend the relationship.

Think about your most recent conflict with a friend. What part of you was offended? How might that offense have opened up old wounds? How can you speak with compassion to that part of yourself and validate your pain? What does that part need from you or from Jesus before it will have courage to do what is right?

Published by K.Aalseth

Kelly J. Aalseth is the Coordinator for Leadership Development for InterVarsity in Greater Los Angeles. She is an author, coach, preacher, and trainer.

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