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Week 3 of Healthy Friendships: Handling Conflicts

As humans, social interaction and connections are essential to personal growth and well being. Conversely, bad relationships may take away from these things in our lives. So this summer, we wanted to talk about healthy friendships as a way to help us all make friendships that feel safe and supportive and how we can be safe and supportive friends to others.


We posted our Healthy Friendships series across our social media throughout the month of August, targeting children and youth navigating the ebbs and flows of friendships (though adults are welcome to use the tips, too!) We focused on 4 themes over 4 weeks:

Week 3 is focused on "Handling Conflict in Friendships". Having authentic and healthy relationships in our lives means that we won't always agree and it's important to know how to navigate conflicts as they arise. Believe it or not, disagreeing with someone can help you grow personally and can benefit the relationship in the long run. It can feel like the idea of conflict is often stressful but it doesn't have to be. Here's a summary of what we covered:


Tip #1: Safe People Respect other People's Boundaries

Last week, we learned that setting boundaries is important in having healthy friendships. While emotions can get heated when you're having a disagreement, that's may be the time to take a break. If you or your friend starts trying to hurt the other by crossing boundaries thru put-downs, violence, or targeting the things that bother you or them, stop & use calming techniques.


A safe person will listen to you when you say things like “I don’t want to talk about this right now” or “I need to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me.”


It's okay for them to ask how much time you need or to ask to set a time to have important conversations. This is part of that give & take we talked about last week. It can't be all one person's way, all the time. Find the places for compromise & common ground. Taking a time out till you are calmer, can be really helpful when things get heated or you need to reflect on what you want to say in a way that isn't mean spirited or said in anger or frustration.


Tip #2: Identifying Unsafe Friendships

Red flags are warning signs that should make you more cautious about the safety of a relationship. If a conflict brings out behaviours in a friend that make you feel unsafe, afraid, or really stress you out for days, this may not be a safe friend.


People may apologize & try to make up but if it starts to happen over & over, watch out & create some distance. Sometimes, there are some great qualities of your friendship that you don't want to lose so you start normalizing stuff that makes you feel awful. This may be a good time to reach out for help from someone you trust to talk about these things. Maybe your friend needs help. Maybe you do. Don't just let it slide if you feel unsafe.


Tip #3: Managing Hurt Feelings

Sometimes big emotions cause us to say things we don't mean. Once you say some things, it's hard to take them back. So take time to cool off before talking about it!


It's okay to tell a friend that you need time alone (don't just ghost) so that you can self soothe (basically, make yourself feel better). You could write in a journal & get all your feelings out. Or hit the gym. Or connect with someone you trust to help understand your feelings better. It's okay to have feelings like anger, hurt, sadness or frustration - we all do. That's human. But how we express them can be healthy or unhealthy & we always want to find ways that don't harm you or others in the process.


Tip #4: Addressing Conflict within a Safe Friendship

If it's a safe friend that you're fighting with, it's better to over-communicate than under-communicate. Sometimes, conflicts are just misunderstandings that need to be addressed by talking to the other person when you're both calm. Many of us try to avoid conflict but that can lead to resentment & blow ups.


It's important to feel safe with a friend to bring up stuff that you're not okay with as they happen (or close to when they happen). Holding it all in till there's a whole list of things can be overwhelming for the other person to handle. If you're not sure how to have the conversation or feel unsafe doing so, sit & talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Other people can often help you practice the skills to communicate in a healthy way or find safe ways to do so.


Tip #5: Can Conflict actually Help a Friendship?

No matter who you choose to have a friendship with, you will find that you are different from them. The fact that they're different can help you learn from each other & may contribute to why you get along, too. It's finding common ground that brought you together. Great friendships take work, so if you can find a way to meet in the middle regardless of your differences with that person, it can strengthen your friendship.

Think about how you manage conflict the same way as you manage other things in your friendship - like give & take of wants or respecting each other's boundaries. A big part of managing conflict is listening to what the other person is saying & not always having to be 'right' but focusing on what's right for the friendship. That's when compromise & communication can really result in a resolution you can both agree on. Of course, there are some things that can't be resolved. Or you can't find a safe way to maintain the friendship. If that's the case, you may need to consider ending things which we'll talk about next week.


Summary

Week 3, we discussed how to navigate conflict within safe and unsafe friendships. We learned that managing conflict is healthy as it helps us grow, and that it's also okay to ask for help when the circumstance feels unsafe or we feel inferior in the situation.


Click here for Week 4: How & When to Safely End a Friendship

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