On Having Hard Conversations

Erin Smalley honestly

I’ve had an awakening of sorts about something I used to avoid like the plague. I never realized having difficult conversations in friendships could actually bring a relationship to a deeper, more intimate level. If you’re like me — I’d avoid this, stuff the hurt, and move on. However, I had a friend teach me a more loving way to proceed.

Recently, I sat across from a friend at Starbucks, and she dropped the news I had hurt her deeply. I was stunned by this news because I was clueless. She continued on with, “Erin, I tried to reach out to you and I had no response.” Initially, I wanted to get defensive — did she not know the pressure I had been under? However, in the back of my mind I did remember she had called a few times, and I hadn’t responded. But I had no idea it was because she really needed something. In the chaos of work, kids, and travelling, I had assumed it was a friendly “I’m just checking in call.”

I could see the pain written all over her face, and my heart broke that I’d missed the mark with my dear friend. After an amazing time of listening and understanding how this impacted her, I sought her forgiveness, and we discussed how we could connect more intentionally in the future.

I walked away from that conversation realizing several friendships riddled with painful memories were relationships that would have looked very different if an honest conversation had occurred. It is often easier to walk away from close friendships without ever even giving it a chance by discussing the real issue. I’ve learned not all women are willing to have these conversations or are even emotionally able to have this type of conversation. In the past, I was one of them! I was fearful of bringing up uncomfortable topics, how I’d been hurt — often assuming they “knew exactly how they had hurt me” or concerns about the relationship in fear of being rejected. But as if the veil had been lifted, I now saw this also limited the level of depth and trust the relationship had as well.

If you’re like me, you desire authentic connection in friendships. If you have a genuine issue with a friend that has hurt you or a deep concern, here are some things to consider before entering into the hard conversation.

  • Can you keep your heart open to the person without saying anything at all or will you erect emotional walls to keep the person at a distance? Giving her the benefit of the doubt is great, but maybe like me, she’s completely unaware of what she’s done.
  • Is this a friendship you desire to take to a deeper level of connection or is this a relationship that has been consistently unhealthy, and it possibly needs a few boundaries instead?
  • Have you previously tried to have this discussion and the friend is unwilling or maybe unable to go to this level? I encourage you to adjust your expectations and possibly the level of intimacy to the appropriate level.

As we continue to pursue authentic, intimate friendships, in our humanness — we will hurt each other. I am just now more willing to have those hard conversations with my intimate circle of friends. Will you join me?


Erin
Erin Smalley is the mom to three girls, ages 6, 16, and 19, and one son, age 12. Erin was a labor and delivery nurse and then returned to school to earn a Master’s in Clinical Psychology. Although Erin thought she had sent her last child off to kindergarten, she and her husband, Greg, were blessed with their youngest child through the gift of adoption. She works very part-time at Focus on the Family in the Marriage and Family Division, while attempting to balance life at home with four kids. She has co-authored three books, her favorite being, Grown-Up Girlfriends—Real Friends in the Real World. You can reach Erin at www.smalleymarriage.com or erin.smalley@fotf.org.