You’ll never have a strong relationship without conflict. It’s impossible. Open and frank conversations are a bridge every relationship must cross to reach relational depth.
Proverbs 24:26 says, “An honest answer is a sign of true friendship” (GNT). Being candid and connected go together; you can’t have one without the other. That’s why a true friend doesn’t use flattery. Empty encouragement is a sign of a manipulator, not of someone who sincerely cares about you.
It sounds counterintuitive, but all healthy relationships must allow for the opportunity to express frustration and anger. Out-of-control anger isn’t good, but anger is part of a loving relationship. If you don’t get angry, you don’t care. If you don’t care, you don’t love.
Many people are too afraid of showing any anger in their relationships. They run from conflict. As a result, they’re always masking the issues and refusing to deal with them. That may lead to a 20-year-old friendship with hidden conflict that could have been resolved 10 years ago.
Going through the tunnel of conflict
You won’t have a genuine friendship without going through what I call “the tunnel of conflict.” This truth relates to your marriage, friendships, and all of your other significant relationships. I’ve told this truth to countless married couples throughout the years.
On one side of the tunnel you have superficial intimacy, where you’re acquainted with someone and you like them, but that’s as far as it goes without conflict. You might go to a movie or sit in a Bible study with the person (or even be married to the person for years), but you’re not ready to share your deepest, darkest secrets with them. You’re not dealing with the gut issues of the relationship: your faults, their faults, and what’s causing both of you pain. You’re ignoring the tough parts of the relationship, as well as the greater connection that comes from them.
On the other side of the tunnel is genuine, deep intimacy. It’s a place where you’re fully understood by another person in a way that you never thought was possible on this planet. Every person craves to reach this level in their relationships.
How do you get from a superficial relationship to genuine, soul-satisfying intimacy with another human being? There’s no smooth path to the other side. You must go through the tunnel of conflict—it’s the only way.
Moving toward intimacy
Conflict is painful, which means it isn’t easy; this often leads to poor decisions. Conflict is necessary for intimacy, but don’t make the conflict harder than it needs to be. Here are three guidelines that will help conflict bring your relationships closer rather than pulling them apart:
- Compliment in public, correct in private. This statement is true regardless of the relationship. You need to do this with your children, your spouse, your best friend, and so on. Save your criticism for a time when others aren’t around. It’ll increase the chances that the other person will hear and respond to your concerns.
- Correct when they’re up and not down. Nobody handles correction well when they’re fatigued or depressed. My wife has always given me great feedback on my sermons, but she never gives me constructive criticism immediately after the service. She knows that after preaching multiple services, I’m out of energy. I can handle almost any correction when I’m feeling strong but not when I’m worn out. Timing is everything in candidness.
- Never offer correction until you’ve proven that you’re open to it. This is an area of relationships where you need to lead by example. Demonstrate that you are able to receive correction before you start giving correction. You must open up your life before you expect others to open up theirs.
You’ve got to be candid and honest and genuine if you want healthy relationships—and you won’t grow if you’re missing those kinds of relationships. Go through that tunnel of conflict and move toward greater intimacy, and watch your life change.