Stop Cutting People Out of Your Life - Don't Resolve Conflicts By Avoidance!
Something is gnawing at me. I admit that I’m not smooth at handling and resolving conflicts. I chose avoidance and hoped that they will go away, so I don’t have to address these awkward moments with people. I convinced myself that I didn’t need their negativity and toxicity because it was easier than addressing conflicts or creating confrontations. But the problem is my avoidance is causing slow deaths to many relationships, and I’m running out of people to cut out of my life.
A few weekends ago, my high school friend of forty-one years came for a visit. We hadn’t seen each other for many years, and she came back into my life recently for one of my milestone events. For two and a half days, we talked and laughed like teenagers. She was a cancer survivor of more than four decades and a candid person with a wicked sense of humor. I hadn’t had so many belly-laughs in years and didn’t care that people glared at us. They were jealous!
My friend was a gift to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed her company. We talked about everything under the sun, and that included my conflict resolutions style of avoidance. I confessed to her the way I have not been dealing with conflicts, and I treasured her sage advice and comments.
“You can’t continue to cut people out of your life. Pretty soon, there won’t be any friends or family left.”
My friend had a valid point. She continued, “It’s important to build our relationship instead of throwing it away as we get older because there will be less time to develop life-long friendships. If you value your relationships with your friends, tell them that you care but address the conflicts in a non-confrontational way.” What’s more, she offered verbal prompts to stop people from violating my boundary without offending them. Little sayings like, “That’s awkward,” or “I don’t like the sound of that, or I don’t think that’s a good idea,” nothing that says “you” in the comment will sound less offensive and accusatory.
She made some excellent points that I couldn’t refuse and was shocked that I hadn’t dissected relationship maintenance in those terms. How did I go astray from “adulting”? When did I stop working on defining boundaries and how to address issues promptly as they came up? Since her advice and reminder, I worked on letting people know as soon as they meandered into my lane while staying in mine. Easier said than done but each time I spoke up immediately to delineate my boundary, I felt great that I stood up for myself.
For example, a lady who sat next to me at the opera in her late sixties told me at intermission to put on my scarf so I won’t get cold since I did that during the first act. I thought it was more about her self-serving interest than my warmth. She continued, “You don’t look that old so let me mother you…” The nerve right? I promptly told her, “I don’t think so. I got this! Thanks though.” It sounded petty, but I felt great to speak up promptly. (Since when was it not acceptable to put a scarf on during a performance?)
Another example, a new female acquaintance asked if we could have an early dinner because she was going through some rough time. I told her that I could meet her closer to my home and I could only spend an hour and a half. At which point, she protested, “I need more time than that with you. I’ll wait till next week when you can meet me longer.” I paused. In the past, I would have stayed silent, brooded, and tried to figure out a way to tell her that I was busy, which was true, but not addressing the fact that our business relationship didn’t warrant this type of time commitment. Despite my compassion for her tough situation I had to define my boundary. I spoke up, “One and a half hour is all I will ever have, this week or next. That’s a lot of time for me. I actually don’t usually do dinners.”
I felt bad that I might have hurt her feelings, but she quickly learned our relationship boundary. This saved me a lot of time rehashing in my head of what would be the right response if I hadn't been prompt on defining my position. You might be scratching your head that this is so elementary that it’s hardly worth a discussion. But for someone like me who have been accustomed to giving freely to others, I now need to remind myself always to respect my time for self-care and mental health, especially being an author and writer, I need to protect and adhere to my writing schedules.
My good friend advised me to promptly and honestly address the issues when friends and families who don’t observe or honor boundaries to prevent its manifestations in destructive ways, “Tell them that you care about them, but you noticed that XYZ happened and did they want to talk about it?" Since our conversations, I continued to work on my relationship building and conflict resolutions in a direct, honest, and productive way, but it is a troubling and humbling process of self-examination because I thought I have already figured how to function as an “adult” healthily and productively.
Life is funny that way. Just when you think you got it figured out, you didn’t and gotta go at it again. Like Heraclitus once stated, “Change is the only constant in life." Let's embrace it! So tell me, how do you deal with conflicts?