A few weeks ago I went to the Dallas area to stay with a friend, get away from the kids for awhile, watch the Superbowl, and try to relax. The trip went really well until the last day when we got into what seemed to be a small tiff.
He came home from work and took me to lunch. He was having a bad day and seemed distracted, so we didn’t talk much. When we got back to his place I took my shoes off and began to relax a bit before leaving for the airport. He had to get back to work but wanted me to move my car out of his garage before he left. “Why?” I said.
“I don’t think you’ll be able to get the garage door closed when you leave.”
“What? I can close a garage door.”
“But you need a remote to close it when you’re leaving.”
“No, I can hit the button from the inside and walk out while it’s closing.”
(Him, getting ramped up because I’m not listening) “But you’ll trip the sensor and the garage won’t close.”
(Me, getting ramped up but not stopping to ask why) “I know about the sensor, I close our garage door that way all the time at home. If nothing else I can just come back in the house, close it, then leave through the front door.”
My friend, “Fine. Bye.” Walks out the door
Me, thinking “Wow, we’re not going to see each other for another year and that’s how you want to leave it? Ok, jerk. Have a nice life.”
Now, I’m a Christian man, meaning that I think things like this should be handled the way Jesus wants me to handle them, which means I should’ve just moved the stupid car. I got really convicted about the whole thing and sent him a text saying that I was sorry and should have moved the car. No response. I left a similar note on the kitchen table next to the key to his house. Still haven’t heard anything.
I know, it all sounds really stupid. When I got home and told my wife about it she looked at me like all wives look at you when you’ve done something stupid. “Why didn’t you just move your car? Wouldn’t that have been easier?” Me (like a dog who just got caught drinking out of the toilet) “Yeah…”
But this fight’s not over – there’s still some fighting left to do.
First, I’ll need to call my friend and let him vent about what happened. I’ll have to fight against my need to always be right, and my need to never lose – at anything. I’ll have to ask him questions that give him the freedom to tell me how he feels. What I’ll probably find out is that what pissed him off had little to do with the garage door, and more to do with him feeling disrespected and un-listened to. Most fights have little to do with the issue at hand, and more to do with old wounds and unresolved anger. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some really sad stuff they’re carrying around day-to-day. I’ll need to make sure he’s in a good place before I move to the next step, which might take awhile, so I’ll have to fight my tendency to “fix” things quickly.
The next step will be to explain to him why I got so ramped up. To do this, I’ll have to fight the fears I have of being vulnerable, of sharing my weaknesses with other people. Here’s what I’m scared of sharing.
I spent most of my life being treated like a fuck-up, mainly because I was the guy who fucked things up alot. So, I grew up feeling like a fuck-up. It’s not a good feeling, so around my college years I decided to no longer be a fuck-up, and every time someone treated me like a fuck-up I’d get really mad. Really. Mad. I’ve managed to transcend the image in my later years, just a bit at least, but I still get really mad when treated like an incompetent. So, when someone communicates to me, for example, that I can’t do something simple like close a garage door, I get really ramped up. It’s not their fault, they’ve just unwittingly traipsed into a very old wound that I haven’t quite managed to redeem yet.
I’ll have to share all of that with my friend, and I’m scared to death to do it. What if he doesn’t listen? What if I can never get him to the point where it’s time to talk about my side of things? What if I can’t control all of this? I’ve laid out this nice little plan about how things should go but who knows how he’ll respond. Who knows where this will land?
It’s hard for me to articulate how important my relationship with him is. I’ve known him most of my life and can’t imagine life without him. What will ultimately win this fight for me is my commitment to our relationship. When I deem the relationship more important than my pride, or prevailing over someone so I can feel “right,” I win. Every. Time.
But it’s also important for me to tell my side of the story, for him to understand what happened with me. For me to have a voice. He could have easily trusted me to close the garage door but he didn’t, and that hurt my feelings.
That’s right. I said it. It hurt my feelings. Regardless of why I got my feelings hurt, I got my feelings hurt. I wish I didn’t. I wish I was more mature than that. But let’s be honest – we hate to talk about getting our feelings hurt, it makes us feel childish, not-so-mature. Weak. Unfortunately it happens all the time in adulthood. That’s why we get angry. Anger, most of the time, especially in interpersonal conflict, is a symptom of hurt feelings. How many times did you get angry in 2015? That’s how many times you got your feelings hurt – hate to break it to you. But telling someone that they hurt you will get their attention much faster than if you say, “hey dickhead, I’m an adult, you need to trust me to close the stupid garage door.”
He might say something akin to “I hurt your feelings? What are you a three year old?” At that point I’d recite what I’ve stated above. If that doesn’t go anywhere I can remind him of multiple episodes of where his anger was driven by his hurt. Like I said, I’ve known him for a really long time.
But it doesn’t matter how he responds. I call it a win if I 1) let him vent and 2) get to a place where I can tell my side of the story. If all of that happens and he’s still mad at me, I’ll remember that there are deeper things at play here. I have some intimate knowledge of the unresolved hurts that he walks with day-to-day. If he’s not willing to let this go, or forgive me, it will be because there are things at play that are darker and deeper than a garage door. If our future encounter doesn’t go the way I plan it to go, I’ll have compassion, and I’ll forgive. That’s where being a Christian comes in really handy by the way. I believe God has forgiven me for all infractions – past, present, and future, regardless of whether or not I deserve forgiveness. For me to un-forgive someone, regardless of whether or not they deserve it, is the deepest act of unbelief, according Jesus’ teachings (click here for a verse that illustrates this perfectly).
It’s tempting to live in the extremes – either cutting the other person off and walking away, or apologizing for everything. Both are easy but neither is an investment in the relationship.
So yes, I’ll try and get him to vent, and I’ll try to tell my side of the story. If things don’t go my way, I’ll remember what he’s dealing with and forgive. More than likely, I’ll be closer to him and more committed to him than I was before. That’s what happens when you put this kind of risk and work into a relationship.
Either way, I’ll win. That’s what conflict is all about