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What Is 'Relational Friction'?

Updated on August 21, 2009

Just What is Relational Friction Anyway?

Have you ever experienced tense moments with either your spouse, family member, friend, or even a boss? That tense moment is when you're experiencing what I call 'relational friction'. Anytime there is a 'build up' of this kind of tension, two things are bound to happen. Either a conflict erupts, or, a diffusing of the situation. The first, happens easily and is a very common occurrence. The latter, is not so easy, and can take a concerted effort on the part of two or more people to diffuse this tension. We have to 'unlearn' the easier habit of what I call negative conflict. First, we need to establish some clarity here. We need to know how to avoid this type of conflict.

Let's explore a disagreement some professionals have when the subject of arguments, or the word conflict 'pops up' and its coupled with the term negative. Some say (in differing areas of counseling), that arguing, or conflict, is neither negative/positive, nor unnatural between people. Although I wholeheartedly agree that arguing is natural (and can even be beneficial in certain instances), I disagree that there are neither negative or positive conflicts. I have witnessed (first-hand), the fallout between people in marriages, families, or other relationships, experiencing very damaging results of some of these types of conflicts I have mentioned.These conflicts were very negative, because of the loss of respect between all of those involved. That loss of respect showed, by the use of belittling, abusive, condemning, and even foul-mouthed comments that caused a lot of hurt. Such tactics can only be meant to demean another person. They are sometimes practiced by all sides involved in a negative conflict. Unfortunately, this is often a fact that some professionals miss, when commenting that there is nothing negative or positive about conflict.

Consider this scenario. What If you witnessed a child publicly being humiliated in the same manner of verbal hostility that we've just described above? What would you refer to it as? Positive or negative? Was it abusive and demeaning? Yet, some consider this same behavior acceptable, (even normal) in an argument between two (or more) adults. I can remember having to tell my eldest son when he was a toddler (he's now a teen), that the behaviour we'd overheard between a couple arguing next door, was not correct behavior for people who love each other. They exhibited the very same verbal hostility that society does not find acceptable in the treatment of young children. If it is considered inexcusable treatment with a small child, when did it become perfectly acceptable and very excusable between adults? Somehow, I don't remember receiving that memo? We need to be absolutely honest with ourselves about what are acceptable responses in a conflict. When we're ready to do this, then we can deal with, and recognize when we're feeling that we're 'building up' to a possible negative conflict, and diffuse it before it peaks. In order for you to recognize that, you need to 'tune in' to your feelings of frustration and understand that it (the frustration or anger), can be the start and cause of 'relational friction' between you and someone else.

Taking Off the Gloves

Learning a Better Way

When we're ready to admit that the way we've handled conflict was wrong, then we're ready to start our journey to better relationships, and a more positive way to handle conflicts. It's at this stage we're ready to be more 'open' to a new and fresh way of dealing with things. We need to make a firm decision to forgive ourselves for our past mishandling of arguments, and any offenses we've incurred towards others. This is an important step, as many can experience a 'stand still' because of their feelings of guilt, and may even engage in 'beating themselves up'. Those habits will only serve to make us feel badly about ourselves, and will not help us to take any steps forward. Instead, they will only end up keeping our progress 'frozen', and we will remain in the state we're in. If we are 'frozen', then we will inevitably cause ourselves to only repeat the way we've handled the conflicts thus far. We will only disallow ourselves to learn any new way to deal with any future difficulties we have with others. We need to be honest about the problem we're having, and identify the feelings we're having before an argument occurs. Honesty is important to have with ourselves (and others), if they are involved with our lives and have engaged in conflict with us as well. Once we have been able to do that, we can move on to the next healthy step of taking responsibility for our part in negative conflict.

What do I mean by taking responsibility? It does not mean we're back to the 'drawing board' of guilt and 'beating ourselves up'! We need to make that clear. Some people believe in order for others to take responsibility, it means they do exactly that! Some even go so far as to believe taking responsibility means that the other person must take full responsibility for the conflict(s) that have occurred. This attitude does not help any relationship mend. So, what does taking responsibility mean? It means accepting our part (and only our part) in the negative conflict(s) that occurred. Admitting that we did not handle ourselves well with an attitude of forgiving (letting it drop!) ourselves, and another (if they are a forgiving individual). We must note here, that some are not forgiving people. We must make a judgment call as to whether they are, and accept that we could be wrong. If we're not forgiven by that individual, that doesn't mean we've failed or are undeserving in any way. In fact, its not our failure at all. Mature, developed adults are forgiving. It is an integral part of our development to do so, and does not require you to be practicing a faith. Its even recommended in secular counseling. Practicing unforgiveness doesn't harm the person we are angry or hurt with, rather it causes emotional and psychological harm to us. Many may even begin to manifest physical illnesses and other symptoms that are 'locked in' a cycle of unforgiveness. Ulcers are an example of this. It has also been alluded to, that there is the possibility some more serious diseases such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Chrones, and others, may be tied to emotional turmoil experienced over a long period of time. Some may even be tied to those that are in unforgiveness. We need to stop fool ourselves-unforgiveness may be literal poison, if we practice it!

Let's recap. We need to forgive ourselves of the negative conflict(s), and remember that if someone else doesn't, it does not invalidate the forgiveness we've shown ourselves in any way! You don't need them to validate you! Once we're clear on the issues of taking responsibility and giving ourselves grace, we can move on to defining who we are apart from the feelings we have allowed to define us. Yes, most eventually may become so deeply entrenched in their feelings, they can't seem to identify themselves without those feelings anymore. They lose who they are in the emotions they're experiencing. Emotions are a part of us-yes. However, they do not wholly make up our complete identity. We are more than purely emotion. When we recognize this, we're ready to re-evaluate who we truly are.

Who are you really? Are you only the sum of your emotions? I have said this in an earlier article called When Marriage Gets Tough, that we need to examine , just who we are. What can we offer aside from our emotions? What are our strengths and weaknesses? If emotions are all you have defined yourself with, you may have to take time to discover those strengths and weaknesses. It is typical for people who have lived purely by emotional ups and downs, (as well as their feelings influencing their paradigm of people and circumstances) to be unaware of who they truly are. As in When Marriage Gets Tough, let me ask you a question. Emotions come and go, do you? If that's the case, you will come and go as they do. Once you have had the chance to take time and rediscover who you are as a person, you will finally be able to start and see things differently about circumstances, and the people you are in relationship with. Whether that relationship is marriage, family, or professional. This is one of the stages of healing that is typical when someone has been through any kind of turmoil (especially emotional). Now we can begin to be ready for a fresh and better approach in life. We are ready for the next step of 're-learning' (so to speak) how to practice the new habits of communication and tuning in to our feelings. We are ready to take hold of our feelings instead of our emotions taking hold of us.

This is the step where we become empowered for the challenge of change. We can finally recognize when we're experiencing a 'building up' of frustration and anger. This is what will help us identify what is really bothering us. Frustration and anger are always a secondary reaction of either hurt or fear. We must now look deeper to find out what that hurt or fear is really based on. We need to ask questions like, "Is the fear/hurt I'm experiencing realistic?" and, "Is this based on some past experience?". These are important questions. Most of these type of emotions are usually from past experiences that have colored the way we perceive where people are coming from, and how we read our circumstances. When there is any similarities to our past, our reaction, however, instinctual is an indication of a need for security. We don't want to have a repeat of our pasts. These reactions happen so quickly that we really don't slow down and focus in on where they are really coming from. They are what normally help us keep safe. They can also be very destructive when we're wrong about someone or a circumstance. This invariably can be the end result, as our hurt and fears are often unrealistic. Once we can focus where our emotions are coming from, and where they originated, we can be open up to talk to someone we trust. A friend, spouse, or counselor can help. Avoidance is the worst thing you can do at this point. We shouldn't ever say to ourselves, "I don't need any help." or, "I can handle this by myself." This can be the worst move we'll make for our own emotional and psychological health. Talking, or communication is always the solution!

Once we are able to identify and heal from these things, we're ready to walk in our new empowerment. We are now able to embrace, and face relationships in a more positive way! We must continue in our new way of communicating and the tuning in that we've learned thus far! Openness and honesty in a calm manner is the key! Continuing in it, is the second step that's just as vital.

Now we've learned a new and better way! We can live an empowered life-its up to us to choose to work at it! Its hard, yes! Nothing that benefits us, ever comes without hard work and sacrifice. Some choose to believe that hard equals impossible-don't believe it! Live empowered. It's completely up to you!


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