I remember it vividly. It was a Tuesday night at Maggiano’s, an Italian eatery. A friend of mine and I were experiencing some tension in our relationship. There hadn’t been a clear falling out or argument, we hadn’t said anything evil about each other or been scheming after the other’s love interest … we just knew there was something off. After some months of wading through the waters of discomfort, we decided to go to dinner to talk through whatever this “something” was.
We sat across the table from one another sharing a plate of bruschetta. She said, “I just don’t feel like you like me”—insert moment of awkward silence and all sorts of flaring self-defenses. Those words … they cut deeply. I knew there was something not right, but I didn’t realize that my own actions were creating a roadblock, stunting the growth of our relationship. My own guardedness and insecurities were keeping our friendship from leaving the shallow end and entering into the deep. I decided to let my guard down, and once I did, I felt the weight of tension begin to lift.
She was honest.
I listened patiently.
I tried to put aside my self-defenses and entitlement (which is no easy feat). Despite the discomfort, I began to realize that this conversation was good. We proceeded to talk about everything from past relationships to family to life’s most defining moments. We walked away feeling lighter, having been brought closer than ever before. I know we’ve all experienced tension like this in relationships. I'm constantly learning the impact of understanding a few key things on this journey toward lasting relationships.
Intimacy—it’s the key to unlocking our deepest relationships; it’s when we truly believe that we are known, loved and worth it. Yet sometimes we create roadblocks, which can hinder us from ever making it there. Whether it’s in a romantic relationship, in friendship, in our community or workplace, many of us have lost the art of deep abiding relationships. One of the greatest challenges we face is the ability to say hard things to one another. Unless we are willing to honestly communicate things like, “It really hurt me when you said this” or ask the hard questions like, “What causes you to act this way?” we will never feel truly connected.
Avoidance—it can be the culprit behind shallow relationships. We have become masters of this; when the going gets tough, we go ahead and get going … or remain silent, dodging the issue altogether. A teacher of mine once said, “Avoidance is toxic to abiding relationships because it is an expression of active passivity.” It’s the intentional decision to become dormant and dodge the uncomfortable. Avoidance is often our natural inclination; it’s the fight or flight mentality. When fears are triggered, we either choose to enter in and wade through the difficulty or actively choose to withdraw from the conflict. We’ve got to start viewing our relationships as worth the fight, stop running away and start running to one another when discomfort arises. I think that sometimes we have replaced hard truth with poetic pick-me-ups and fleeting feelings, believing the lies of our culture, which tell us that our comfort is of the utmost importance.
When we choose to avoid, we aren’t valuing our own emotions or the other person’s place in our lives.
We are in essence communicating, without saying a word, that our short-term comfort is more important than another’s long-term good. How can we guard against allowing avoidance to lead as we pursue authentic relationships? We must make the choice to start communicating truth in love to one another. Though, we can’t just run around telling everyone how it is, we must communicate honestly in a way that lovingly reflects one another’s flaws. I know that these things don’t simply roll off the tongue. I have done my share of dancing around these conversations and it’s far easier to sugarcoat than it is to be direct.
Directness—is what we truly need. We can live in an alternate reality all we want, but it is only when we begin to speak out that our relationships become deep, intimate and ultimately full. It’s simply telling someone that you feel a strain because they have withdrawn, or that you see a toxic habit in their life that others might not, or that even you haven’t been honest. Speaking it out, you create space for depth. More often than not, these conversations are beneficial because honest words, when said with another’s best interest at heart, will make us and our bonds stronger.
Maybe it’s the conversation you’ve been putting off with your best friend where you need to say, “I care about you, but I feel like your need for others’ approval is taking control of your life and hindering our friendship.” Perhaps things have been rocky in your dating relationship and you need to say, “I really value you and our relationship, but these things are hindering us from moving forward.” Or your family member sarcastically said something about you over dinner that you simply can’t get past and you need to say, “I love you, but when you said this, it made me feel … ”
In these moments we have the opportunity to experience love in action—to breach the intangible.
Let’s stop giving up and start entering in, stop conveniently avoiding and start boldly communicating, stop talking about and start talking to. Maybe it’s a dinner conversation or a simple phone call. Whatever it is, choose it. Choose to build a history and sit in the uncomfortable, for the good of another. This may be the road less traveled, but this is the path leading to intimacy.
I look back to that conversation over that candlelit Italian dinner and I am filled with gratitude. Over time this friendship has become one of my most valued and vulnerable. I stood with this friend on her wedding day and she has stood by me through some of my greatest joys and deepest sorrows. We have become the kind of friends who mirror one another, see behind the mask of perfection and speak into each other’s souls. Giving up is simply not an option.
We jumped into the deep and haven’t looked back—the deep has become comfortable and I can honestly say, the fight was so very worth it.
Written by Leigh Liebmann. Originally published by Darling Magazine: Print Fall 2015 Issue