One of my greatest ambitions in life is to get into such a heated argument with someone that I am compelled to slap them, really hard, in the face. Or chuck my drink at them and storm off. It depends what I have in my hand at the time, but I’m easy really. Just as long as it’s good and dramatic, like on the telly.
But in real life we don’t argue like that, do we? In fact, we don’t really argue at all. We notice something bothersome about a person, or they do something that outright upsets us, but we never say anything. We don’t want to rock the boat. Much better to let it go, except we don’t. We hold on, we mull over, we send thinly-veiled passive-aggressive texts so that the other person thinks we might be annoyed, but never knows for sure.
My question is; why?
It’s rare these days that you have a single friend with whom you can argue without it affecting your other relationships. Friendships come tied to other friendships, and so you can’t risk falling out with Person A because Person A is going out with Person B, and you really like Person B. Or you and Person A and Person C are a little group of three, or Person A is family so you can’t fall out because you’ll see them every Sunday from here to eternity. Or all of the above. Or maybe none of the above. Maybe we just don’t feel we are allowed to argue with our friends.
But here’s the thing: we are. In fact, we should. Characters arguing doesn’t just make for good telly; it moves the plot along. One character can’t be mad at the other without having it out eventually, otherwise there would be no character development, no story. I’m not saying we should scream at each other and get into a proper fight (my dramatic aspirations aside) but maybe it’s time to have it out, to be honest and to move on in our lives and relationships.
Anyone who has been married longer than five minutes will tell you; you have to communicate. You are going to spend your life with this person, so if something they do bothers you then you have to say something – lest it bother you for the rest of time. I’ve known some of my friends for 11 years – longer than I’ve known James – but there are still little things that go unsaid and have done for over a decade. And I’m sure we’ve all got family baggage that’s been brewing since infancy, and if it hasn’t gone away yet I’m becoming convinced it will carry on festering forever, unless we say something. So, how do we do it without ruining our relationships?
- Pick the right moment: I’ve had many a deep and meaningful conversation over a few beverages, but when morning comes all that progress has been wiped away with your hazy hangover and you’re back at square one. I’ve also been in and seen many an honest conversation over text or online, but even the ones that start innocently turn nasty pretty quickly. Writing it out on your phone lets you think things through before you say it, but even the most well-thought-out text can be misinterpreted, and then the sparks fly. So it’s best be sober and face-to-face. (Yikes!) Try to be brave when an opportune moment comes up, or set up a good time to talk (“Can we go for a coffee this weekend?” is literally the only way I can think of, so other suggestions are more than welcome.)
- Be clear about your feelings: Before you say a word, check yourself before you blow it all out of proportion. Think about what it is specifically the other person has done, and why it bothers you. Be honest with yourself about how much is actually to do with the other person, and how much is to do with you and other stuff you have going on.
- Watch your language: Avoid phrases like “you always” or “you never”. No one ever does something all of the time or none of the time, and saying they do is unfair and will just get their back up. Try to be as specific as possible, with phrases like “Last week when you…it made me feel…” or “Sometimes I get annoyed when you…” or “Lately you’ve been…and it’s beginning to bother me”. It’s important to be calm but clear – you don’t want to upset the other person, but you need to leave it all on the table.
- How do you think they feel? Remember this other person is your friend, not the enemy. When my parents are having a debate and my Dad knows he’s losing (which is fairly often as he rarely has a leg to stand on) he will go to his signature retort: “Well, how do you think I feel?” He’s not being sincere, he’s just trying to confuse the conversation so he can make a quick getaway, but in a different context that phrase can be helpful. (Dad, I know Mum reads these to you so I just want to tell you right now: when you do it to get out of an argument it’s annoying, stop doing it.) But when you’re airing your grievances, stop for a moment and ask yourself: how do you think they feel? No bad behaviour occurs in a vacuum, and no real friend is actively trying to upset you; they have their reasons. They could be going through a hard time right now, or there could be something you’re doing and they’re responding to that. It doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t valid or that you shouldn’t say anything, but we are all complex, flawed human beings with hundreds of things going on, and we should bear that in mind.
Please note that I say all of this knowing I suck at it; that I hold onto grudges and blow things way out of proportion. But I want to be better. I want to have friendships that are long and healthy and life-giving, and that means pruning away the dead leaves so the friendship can flourish. Give your friends and family permission to be honest with you, and set a precedent where you are honest with them. It’s will be awkward at first but I promise you: it really is better out than in.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti