Tuesday, August 18, 2009


1 a : lack of agreement or harmony (as between persons, things, or ideas) b : active quarreling or conflict resulting from discord among persons or factions : strife

It's funny how the definition of a word doesn't always match your use of the word. I had planned to title this post conflict, but when I read the definition, discord seemed to fit better. I am not a fan of conflict or discord. I would much prefer to just bury any lack of agreement and avoid active quarreling. But I've finally learned after thirteen years of marriage that a little active quarreling can lead to more harmony, both inner harmony and inter-personal harmony.

But not always...

Last night, J and I had a phone conversation with a couple that I'll call C and B for the purposes of this post. On Sunday, B sent an e-mail to J and I that hurt my feelings. The e-mail was written in a pretty businesslike tone and was designed to set expectations about an upcoming event, specifically to remind us of C & B's boundaries for our involvement. I responded pretty emotionally to J that evening, sharing with him that I was offended that B would even feel the need to draw this particular boundary with me. I think most who know me would agree that I'm not an intrusive person. I think most introverts aren't intruders. I don't barge in on people, I don't knowingly intrude on someone's privacy, I tend to stay well on the side of your business being your business. In short, I'm a pretty respectful gal. So it hurt to be told by someone who's known me for about 17 years not to cross an obvious boundary.

One of the things I love about J is that he sometimes feels protective of me. Growing up, I rarely felt like my father protected me and I often felt like I needed to protect myself from him, so it's a new feeling to have someone I trust who looks out for my emotions the way J does. I think the e-mail had frustrated J, too, but it was really my reaction to it that upset him. So he sent an e-mail on Monday venting to B that he was out of bounds. A few e-mails went back and forth and C & B suggested that we talk things out on the phone to clear the air before the upcoming event where we'll all need to interact.

Now, for most of my life, my approach to discord has been remarkably like an ostrich. I prefer to just put my head in the sand and pretend nothing happened. If I wait long enough, others tend to forget as well or at least become willing to play along. So a phone call to "talk it out" was a stressful event.

I tried to prepare myself. I mentally evaluated where I had been in the wrong, so that I would be ready to freely admit this. I immediately owned up to feeling hurt by the e-mail and that my emotional reaction was largely to blame for J's own reaction. The conversation continued from there, with J and I explaining and apologizing as necessary. I was relieved when the conversation was done and spent no time analyzing it - I just wanted to forget it ever happened. But it kept coming back to my mind, niggling at me, until I finally realized that at no point in the conversation did B or C ever admit to doing anything wrong. All blame was laid squarely at our feet and they ended the call feeling much better. I, on the other hand, feel much worse.

What is the point of conflict and strife if I feel worse after the fact? Why even bother? It seems my old standby approach of avoidance would have been infinitely preferable. I'm not sure this is the healthiest reaction to have. But it is honestly how I feel. So if you're reading this, how do you deal with discord? Do you work to regain harmony in the relationship or wait for the ship to right itself after rocking on emotional waves for bit? Is it easy or hard to talk through conflict? Does discord in your relationships hinder your inner harmony?


mikkee said...

I struggle so much with the same type of past and the way that has taught me to deal with conflict. I think if it were me in this situation, I would find a time to bring it up naturally. A phone conversation seems difficult in that it really does not allow a gauge of a situatuion.

Chocolate, Vanilla and Caramel said...

I hate conflict too! :) It's always been very hard for me to deal with. I often find that phone calls to handle conflict are worse than duking it out in person. I don't like talking on the phone anyway, so maybe that's part of the problem.

We moved a lot when I grew up and I pretty much just avoided conflict because hey, in a couple of years I was going to be gone anyway (or the other person would move before then -- people were very transient where we were overseas).

But I realized that it really hindered my ability to make deep friendships because sooner or later, ALL relationships experience conflict. Avoiding it or pretending it didn't happen meant that many times, the relationship couldn't get much deeper because even if the other person didn't act any different, I knew in the back of my mind that all was not well.

So I made a choice to deal with things as they came up. It has really been freeing. Of course, not all conflicts end well. Sometimes the person and I don't ever really come to the same mind. But that's okay. My goal is not that everything get back to normal, but that I am able to do what I need to do in order to free free and not have the conflict lurking in my mind.

I have gotten a lot better about voicing to people when I have been hurt by their words or actions. It's very hard, and I applaud you for being honest about it! That's great. And I loved the part you wrote about your husband feeling protective of you. What a great guy.

I'm wondering if you almost took too much responsibility for the situation by immediately apologizing. Yes, perhaps your response contributed, but it certainly sounds like the other couple didn't communicate well at all in the first place.

It's too bad they didn't apologize for the way they communicated. Even if they felt they weren't in the wrong, I think loving relationships are willing to consider the fact that perception is everything. They may not have perceived that they did anything wrong, but your perception was that the email was brusque and hurtful. My opinion is that they should have cared enough about YOU to apologize for communicating in a way that hurt you. I hope that makes sense. For instance, I might say something to my husband that doesn't seem hurtful to me. But if it does hurt him, I need to own up to that. I can say I didn't mean to hurt him, but I think I also should apologize for huting him.

Anyway, this is very long and rambling, but it is something that I have struggled with so much in my life! I think you handled it very well and did the best you could. But don't feel bad about being honest when people hurt you. I think your friends should have acknowledged that their communication hurt you and at least owned up to that!

Suburban Turmoil said...

Honestly, I'm always trying to be upfront with people and let them know when I'm disappointed or my feelings are hurt- which happens very rarely.

I'm always careful to tell them that it's specific to that incident and that I wanted to get it out in the open and get over it so we could go back to being friends.

And you know what? It never works. The friendship is always pretty much awkward and eventually over after that. It turns out that I am (very politely) direct and up front, but most other people simply aren't, and when an "issue" is put out in the open, they tend to want nothing to do with you ever again.

People are weird. ;)

Variations On A Theme said...

I'm trying to figure out how you could possibly be taken as intrusive. You seem the opposite.. extrusive? (not a word, apparently). I hate conflict, too, but I hate a hindered relationship more, so I usually approach and engage and try to figure it out.

That strategy has never worked with my dad, and after my initial attempts when I was 16 years old, I've finally given it up as impossible.

Olivia came home the other day, upset because a friend spoke unkind words to her. "Why would she say that?" Olivia asked, very perplexed. "I don't know," I told her, hugging her. "But she especially shouldn't have said it because Ms. R had just talked about that kind of thing this morning! How could she forget so fast?"

Then Olivia told me the story her teacher had told the class. Using a paper heart as an example, the teacher explained that hurtful words made a fold in the heart, and when there were enough hurtful words, the heart was all folded up. People can make up and open the heart again, but it still has all these little creases in it.

I'm not sure what to think of the story, and I'm not sure if Olivia remembered it correctly, but I realized that's probably very true...except, maybe, with families. Friends with whom I've had conflict never seem as close, and this is very sad to me. I think David and I can uncrease our hearts, but I'm not even positive about that. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, and I'm not very good at it.

Concerning your difficult conversation: I would be angry at myself and the other couple. I guess it'd be too awkward to have a conversation about that conversation, but I'd probably be a fool and try. I'm usually unwise in those situations; sometimes it's good to be an ostrich.

Gigi said...

Data. I try to remind myself that I can control no one but myself. I don't want to judge people but I think it wise to have data. Not like a grudge but data that says, "this is a smart way to interact with that person."

Allison said...

As I've gotten older, I've gotten more vocal and more sure of myself. I've also realized that I've never regretted speaking up for myself, even though I've sometimes regretted HOW I've said certain things. I almost always regret not speaking up. It's hard to do, and sometimes I do it with shaking hands. But I feel like I must role-model for my children, too. I agree with previous posters who suggest that the friendship will not be the same after a confrontation. Forgive the sexism, but it seems like women never forgive and forget fully, even though we may pretend. Men, on the other hand... But will you ever be the same with them, in any case?

Chris and Tiana said...

I'm late on commenting on this post since you wrote it a long time ago. But as you've seen, my family totally does not avoid conflict. We're just about as "in your face" as you can get. I still don't like conflict, though. I just want everyone to like me. But I know that if I'm hurt or upset by something, I hold it in and let it get much worse. So I usually have to find a way to let that person know what I'm thinking. With my family, I rarely get an apology. In fact, I can't think of a single apology I've gotten from a family member. Especially not from the ones who have hurt me the most. I've had to accept the fact that I will probably never hear an apology from the 2 people I most want to hear one from, and I'll probably never hear them admit that they were wrong about anything. But having them apologize is not my responsibility. My responsibility is only to acknowledge how I've sinned against them (if I have in that situation), ask forgiveness, tell them how they've hurt me, then let them know that I'm willing to forgive them even without them asking for it. That's never been easy, but if I don't do it, I'll just walk around resenting them and they'll never even know. So anyway, basically conflict sucks. Not very helpful, huh?