Friendship, Fighting and Healthy Conflict

I don’t like the word fighting. I’ve put an enormous pressure on myself over the years to avoid any fighting. To not be violent. To go and deal with my anger on my own, so that I can come back with willingness and patience. So that I can argue, disagree, debate, rather than fight. This self-imposed standard eventually became what others expect of me too, to the extent that when they rarely see me fighting, their immediate response is “Oh wow, this is so not you. Please don’t be like this.”

The more I practice mindfulness, the more I am realizing what anger is. Anger is an explosive emotion. It is possible to express anger in non-harming ways, such as yelling into an empty open field “I AAAAM AAAAANGRYYYYYYYY!” But it is not possible to express anger in non-explosive ways. Anger is fire. Anger will explode. There is no such thing as a “calm anger”. Nope. Doesn’t exist.

The more I practice mindfulness, the more I am realizing how I have shunned anger. I’ve sent anger to exile. It has no means of self-expression. Obviously, I still don’t want its expression to do harm. But now, differently than before, I prioritize expressing it over causing NO harm. I am okay with causing A BIT of harm, especially in safe environments, and then apologizing for it. I am starting to sense this risk of little harm is still MUCH better than shutting the anger down to the depths of my body, and letting it simmer down there for who knows how long. So yes, I will try my best not to fight, but if it comes to it, yes, I will fight a bit.

The problem is, fighting is a luxury, and we fight only in luxurious relationships - with our life partners, parents and siblings. We spend so much time with these people, and they have so many chances to fail to meet our needs. And when they do, we have permission to simply go crazy on them.

Friendship though, is another story. Most friends achieve the basics of crying with you when you are sad, and dancing with you when you are happy. They start failing to meet your needs only in longer friendships, like a childhood friend you had since age 9, or more complex relationships, such as a friend who was more than a friend in the past. And then, when they fail to meet your needs, you usually don’t have permission to fight them.

There is a phrase I have been hearing more lately: “I really don’t like fighting with my friends.” This phrase, in the context in which it is used, generally implies: “I already have enough stress in my life. My friendships should be confrontation-free zones. If we are going to fight, then I’d rather not be friends.”

These phrases perplex me so much, for a number of different reasons.

One, who likes fighting? We all deeply dislike it. Fighting is unpleasant in all cases.

Two, how can we expect intimacy without some healthy tension and confrontation? How can two people co-exist for extended periods of time and their needs be aligned all the time? We all are suffering. Your friends are suffering too. You will for sure fail to meet each other’s needs in the middle of all of this. And an empty open field to yell your anger at will not always be available.

Three, I don’t prefer the alternative. If I couldn’t deal with my anger, and now I have to vomit exactly what is on my mind or slam the door, why not let this be? Isn’t the alternative of not being friends anymore so much more violent?

Four, we are not made of glass. We are not THAT fragile. We are humans, blood and flesh. We get wounded, we give wounds and we heal them. Over and over again.

So please, by all means, with those people you call your closest friends, try more than your best to find that empty open space that can take your anger away, and if you can’t do that, then go and fight. Take these rare occurrences of fighting as a sign of trust and closeness. Take it as luxury. Know that you will eventually see the contradicting needs and find your balance again. Know that you will have the heart to forgive.