Have you ever felt the temptation to not deal with things?
I find that it’s especially tempting to not deal with issues in relationships when they come up – especially the ones where I feel shamed or disappointed by someone. When that’s happened to me in the more distant past, I would nurse my wounds and secretly feel resentful, all the while convincing myself that my feelings were better left unsaid. I think that’s the result of being brought up in a family where real feelings were never talked about or dealt with in a healthy way. I knew as a child there was something wrong with that picture, and I yearned to be able to be genuine with my family. But when I tried, I was ridiculed for it so I learned at a very early age that it wasn’t safe to handle things that way.
It took me a long time to learn a different way and to become courageous enough to tell people how I was really feeling, especially about something they did or said. Even today, as an aware and emotionally intelligent adult, I still sometimes try to take the easy way out by convincing myself that certain interpersonal dynamics don’t really need to be dealt with. I’ll chide myself by thinking, “Can’t you just let it go? I mean, there is such a thing as picking one’s battles, right?”
But when the feeling festers and causes any degree of emotional pain, my hindsight tells me that I need to handle it and try to work it out or the relationship will suffer.
Last week a client of mine was talking about a relationship she was having some trouble with. She was trying to convince herself that she didn’t really need to do anything about it, but deep down she knew she really did. In her creative brilliance, she quipped, “I guess it’s either talks-it or toxic.” I immediately asked her if I could use that in my writing. Thankfully, she said yes.
Because that’s what it is, that is the essence of the choice point we all come to in some of our relationships – do I tell the person I’m upset or do I just ignore the feeling and hope it goes away?
Most of the time, when I can speak to the person in question assertively, telling them how I feel rather than what they’ve done wrong, the conversation goes better. I generally have success with that.
But, that being said, there have been a couple of occasions in my life when that hasn’t gone so well. In one case, it was with a woman I’d been close friends with for many years. We had even made a pact of sorts to tell each other the truth, even when it was difficult. Over the years, we had kept that pledge alive by being genuine with each other, but as the relationship continued things began to slowly unravel between us – perhaps as a result of not always keeping our bargain. I’m still not sure what really happened, but the time came when she was not willing to hear me when I spoke of a problem I was having in the friendship. It has been a couple of years and, sadly, we have not spoken to each other since.
This can happen sometimes when we choose to be real – it’s a difficult choice to make and to stick to. But as disappointing as that experience was for me, I was also somewhat relieved because those are not the kinds of relationships I want to have in my life. If being ‘authentically me’ -- especially when I’m being assertive and not aggressive -- causes me to lose someone from my life, then that person was not really a keeper to begin with, and today I’d rather know that as early as possible.
Recently, a conflict came up with another long-time friend. This time I knew that for my own self-respect and for the sake of our continued relationship, I would need to deal with it promptly. At first, she was quite annoyed with me for bringing up my issues, but after a few emails and phone calls, we were able to save and even strengthen our friendship. It was truly worth the time and effort this took because, as a result, I feel a lot more trusting now, both in my friend and in my own ability to take care of myself.
We need to find the people who will allow and encourage us to talk things out, even when it’s uncomfortable, so that relationships don’t become toxic to us. I know that I would rather hear if a person is having trouble with something I’ve done or said, than have that person leave my life due to toxic resentments that built up and were never spoken about. And I want people in my life who feel that way too. It’s the choice I make today.
Can you imagine how different the world would be if we all agreed to talk-it instead of being toxic?