How to Confront 101

Your boyfriend, spouse, significant other, good friend or loved one said or did something that hurt your feelings, let you down, or angered you in some way. Or perhaps you have had a misunderstanding or difference of opinion and you sense something is not quite right between the two of you. What do you do?
a) say nothing and secretly simmer
b) blast the person right then and there
c) if married, tell your spouse you have a headache that night or use some other passive-aggressive approach such as not returning phone calls or declining invites
d) end the relationship
e) wait for your emotions to simmer down, think through what you want to communicate, and then bring up the subject as soon as possible

The best answer, of course, is e which is known as healthy confrontation. This post is a crash course which will 1) give you a healthier attitude towards confrontation, 2) teach you some basic skills and 3) encourage you to deal with small issues before they become major problems which could cause you to lose a good friendship or relationship.

Confrontation has gotten a bad rap. I often hear people say “I try to avoid confrontation,” like it is the flu or something. I don’t think they realize confrontation is a healthy behavior, designed to preserve a relationship. The term “confront” means “face to face”. In other words, to be direct with the other person. Why then are so many people hesitant about confronting an issue?

The reason, I think, is two-fold: a) they are afraid of bringing up a touchy subject and b) they lack the skills to be able to handle conflict.  Here is a personal story.

The other day in the gym, I ran into a neighbor. This neighbor and I had made plans to get together twice this year and both times she has cancelled at the last minute with little explanation. Now I know things come up, and if someone has a legitimate reason, I am very understanding. However, after two occurrences, I felt it was time to say something. My neighbor had no recollection whatsoever of having previously cancelled, tried to justify herself and got defensive 😦 This was not what I had hoped for, but when we confront someone for the first time, we don’t know how the other party will react. I was hoping for a response along the lines of “I’m so sorry I had to cancel again. I know it was disappointing to you. I hope you can forgive me.” Now that would be taking responsibility and letting the other person know you care about their feelings.

Contrary to popular belief,  the goal of confrontation is to preserve relationships. When we make the effort to address issues, we allow the opportunity for the air to be cleared, for changes and amends to be made and for the relationship to grow. It is a win-win for both parties. Unfortunately, many people lack the skills to address confrontation and avoid it altogether.  The consequences are ugly and we end up losing a friendship that could have been preserved by a straight-forward and honest tete-a-tete.

What happens when we do not deal with issues? Hard feelings eventually build up and we tend to explode over some other minor infraction because we have not dealt with the real issue.  I have seen numerous 30-yr plus marriages and long-time friendships disintegrate because issues were allowed to build up over the years. Then one day, the deeply offended party decides to suddenly end the relationship leaving other party is stunned and clueless. You’ve heard of situations like this, right? So sad.

You have probably heard the adage “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” and this is wise advice. When we harbor negative feelings we only harm ourselves. Chances are we will not have a good night’s sleep. Many couples stay up all night trying to resolve an issue. My experience is this: issues cannot always be resolved right away. If more than an hour has gone by, it is time to give the subject a rest and come back to it another time. Obviously, you are at an impass and it is time to take a break.                                                                          

Some tips to keep in mind when dealing with sensitive issues:

1. wait till the hurt of the injury has subsided before attempting to address the problem
2. address issues in a timely manner, before you explode, over-react or decide to end the relationship
3. do not allow too much time to go by or the other person may forget what happened
4. avoid sweeping problems “under the rug”
5. gently speak to the other person at a time when you are both relaxed, face to face if at all possible. Consider the amount of stress you both may be under.

In order to have a good outcome, both parties must be mature enough and have the desire to want to work through the problem in order to restore the peace and the relationship. My experience is after I work through a situation with someone, I am closer to that person. I appreciate their willingness to work through it together and that makes the relationship even more precious.

Which do you think is better: to continue to overlook things and store up hostility and then explode or to openly voice your feelings in a timely manner and get the matter out in the open? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject so please comment.

Here’s to healthier and happier relationships and until next time, keep looking up!