I'm 32, and I just had one of the only first real adult fights of my life. I don't mean I haven't had any arguments as an adult. Trust me, there have been many, mostly with whoever my boyfriend was at the time.
I mean, this may very well have been the first time I took a difficult conversation and learned something productive from it. I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've done so without feeling defeated and completely worthless because someone in my life found fault with me.
The funny thing is, the entire fiasco began because I got upset about something. So, I decided to bring it up for once.
No, I didn't do so perfectly. I'm not used to doing it at all. I mostly let issues with friends fester under the surface without really bothering to address them. I just pretend I can overlook them or let them go. Then, I end up either resenting that person without his or her knowledge or blowing up unexpectedly. It's pretty unfair to both myself and him or her.
I let my emotions fester a little too long as well. But this time, I was hurt, and I wanted to take a step back instead of getting weird and distant. I wanted to be honest, even if I was perhaps overreacting a little. I tried to create a boundary.
I tried to be direct and reasonable instead of passive-aggressive. These are all (sadly) logical steps I am not in the habit of taking.
The conversation we ended up having was nothing like I thought it would be. This person is my best friend in the world, and we know each other very well. But, I've found we have a ton of work to do.
Our communication has been lacking, and we are similar in certain ways. This leads to a gap between what we think we express and what the other person hears. We've both been taking comments the wrong way.
Perhaps we've gotten too comfortable in our friendship. We may be treating each other in ways we might not treat someone we don't know very well.
It's funny, isn't it? We all spend so much time working on our romantic relationships, but we never consider that we need to work just as hard on our friendships. Often, those are our longest partnerships.
A 10-year friendship can't last without compromise, adaptation, communication and upkeep. It's unrealistic to think it can. Yet, we do so more often than not.
So, we sweep minor irritations under the rug. We ignore problems in the hopes that they will simply go away. If anything, we hope we'll stop noticing them.
We don't ask for what we need because we're worried we'll bother someone. Therefore, we settle into unhealthy patterns. We might notice this with a romantic partner, but we rarely give the same consideration to a friendship. We hurt each other in little ways that we don't notice because we're so comfortable, and the other person never tells us.
I have an excruciatingly difficult time accepting negative feedback about myself. It's also hard for me to deal with conflict without blowing it out of proportion. I was able to keep both problems under control when I had this argument, albeit with great difficulty.
I attribute this to the fact that I'm beginning to understand where it comes from. I recognize it as irrational behavior that I need to transform. I have so many unhealthy learned habits and coping mechanisms, and I've never quite understood what to do about them.
The work is hard, and sometimes, it feels hopeless. The important part is to keep trying and improving, little by little, even when it seems like you'll never get anywhere. It'll happen, even if it's painfully gradual.
I'm glad we had the talk because it taught me a lot about myself, as well as about the dynamics of our friendship. It showed me that I can have a productive – though difficult – conversation with someone I care about without him or her giving up on me. It taught me that making mistakes does not make me a bad person, and that it's going to happen.
All I can do is try harder and do better. My friend told me a lot of ways I've been behaving that aren't so great. Yes, it was very hard to hear and accept without getting defensive. She told me a lot of stuff I didn't want to hear. But, it's what I needed to hear.
I, in turn, tried to share some things I needed from her. I tried to explain how upset some of the things she does make me. The conversation opened up an avenue for more comfortable and intimate discussions in the future. It taught us both much about ourselves, as well as about the other person. I know that personally, it helped bring to light some issues I'm dealing with that I couldn't necessarily put into words before.
I believe the aftermath will ultimately prove helpful, and it will bring us closer together. I will continue to deal with my own uncomfortable reactions to having such mature and honest conversations. It's a struggle for me to not feel like a sh*tty friend or bad person when I receive unfavorable feedback about the way I've behaved.
I do know these conversations will improve and strengthen our friendships if I become more open to feedback and criticism. In this way, we can both move toward being more honest and open in our communication.
Sometimes, we all need reality checks about ourselves, as difficult as they may be to realize. If no one ever tells you you're being sort of a jerk, you might go through life forever committing the same jerky behavior unknowingly. Then, you'll wonder why you aren't maintaining your relationships.
It doesn't make you a bad person. It just makes you human.
As soon as you – and I – learn to accept that, the road toward improvement smooths out considerably. That doesn't mean it will be an easy one. It just means you'll understand you're headed in the right direction.