Some tips on working through disagreements

One of the great heartaches of life is when a family or a group of friends has a falling out. It may be because of a difference of opinion, a poor decision or life choice, or a lack of communication. I have found in most cases with family arguments or disagreements between friends that it is a simple misunderstanding that causes most arguments or breakups. What can we do as Christians in such a situation?

First of all, a few things to remember. A friendship is a living thing, and like all living things it needs to be nourished. A true and lasting friendship cannot be done on the cheap or achieved quickly. It is also important to remember that, although our Lord Jesus told us to love everybody, even our enemies, he did not tell us that we have to like everybody all of the time. Sometimes people can say and do very nasty things, things which hurt us a great deal. We still are called to love such a person, as difficult as this may be. But sometimes it’s OK not to like them very much. Loving is being able to pray for a person and desire heaven for them. Liking is being able to be friends. There is a difference.

When there is a disagreement, it is important to talk things out. Obviously, emotions are involved, but that’s normal. Talking things out involves listening to the other person. If the other person does not feel like he or she has been heard, the disagreement will not go away.

What sometimes is helpful is repeating back to the person what you hear them saying. For example, after we have heard the other person’s complaints about us we might say, “What I hear you saying is that you are angry with me because I didn’t come to your house for Christmas.” If we do this simple exercise, it helps us to understand the issue better and the other person feels like we are really listening.

If a person is unwilling to speak with us, I have found that writing him a letter is a way to reach out. Letter writing takes time. We have to think about what we are saying and the person knows it. Letters are more difficult to throw away and they slow down the reaction time. Try writing a letter!

Sometimes a disagreement has to do with an important issue, something to do with morality, justice, or even our Catholic faith. It is important in these issues to stand up for what is right and good. If by standing up for what is right we are challenging the other person, perhaps our good example might lead to a change of heart.

What we all need to avoid is going along with a friend or family member’s sinful behavior because we don’t want to make them angry. Indeed, we are truly hurting them and harming ourselves as well.

Many times arguments in families or among friends have to do with a simple misunderstanding. What was communicated, could it have been said better or differently, or at a better time? Is the other person stressed about something else in life?

For example, a job, marriage, children or health? Most of the time people “fly off the handle” over a little thing because there is something much bigger behind the scene. Also, we must be willing to admit that we made a mistake, said something stupid, or acted in a cruel or inappropriate way. Many times in relationships we have to apologize even if it was only half our fault.

Friendships and family life are among life’s greatest blessings. Let us work at healing them so that we might all have peace.

Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”