In life, we are born into a certain family. Our relatives are people we cannot choose; they are chosen for us. But as we grow from babies into adults, we can choose our friends. These are the people with whom we choose to spend our time. As with any relationship, opposites attract. We may find we choose people who have the opposite personalities to us. This might be great initially, but when conflict arises, we may have friends who choose an abrasive or harsh approach to their communication. They may choose to control how we view certain situations, how we view them, or how we view the world around us. If this happens too often, we may become resentful because this relationship does not allow us to be who we truly are but rather who our friends want us to be. This can cause us to be placed in a sticky situation. What can we do to set firm boundaries but remain in a relationship with our controlling friends?
Here are five ways to respond to abrasive or controlling friends:
1. Love Them
Jesus’s first response in every situation is love (whether that be gentle or tough love). He wants us to love others as much as we love ourselves. Just as we want to be accepted for who we are, we must accept that our friends choose to approach life in a very different way than we do. Acceptance is one of the keys to the success of a long-term relationship. Having said this, Jesus loves us enough not to let us remain stuck in our sinful patterns of behavior but rather transform us into Christ-like characters.
We won’t be good friends if we don’t point out if a friend is constantly losing relationships or in constant conflict due to their abrasive approach. Scripture says, “speak the truth and love so that they may grow…” (Ephesians 4:15). Speaking the truth to others is so important to a person’s spiritual growth. In this verse, truth and love are inextricably linked. When we speak the truth to others, we are loving them. It is not loving merely to sit in silence or sweep the issue under the rug. God will point out to us when the right time is for us to confront our friends in love and talk to them about the way they treat others. If they choose to change because of our confrontation, we have helped further the Kingdom. If, however, they choose not to be in a relationship with us anymore, we must grieve the loss but ultimately know that we did the right thing by helping point out their weaknesses and flaws so they become better people.
2. Be the Example
For us to be light to the world around us, we must be the example of Christ. This means we must exude the traits of the Holy Spirit in every relationship we have, including our friends. When our friends choose to be harsh or abrasive, we can choose to respond in gentleness and with goodness. We can go the extra mile and demonstrate Christlike love by not retaliating or arguing with them. We are called to be examples of Christ to the world. This starts with the people with whom we are the closest. If, after a prolonged period of time, you find your friends are not changing their approach because of who you are, it may be time to sit down and have a hard (yet necessary) conversation.
3. Change Your Communication
If a friend is constantly controlling your other relationships or your worldview, try changing the way you communicate. Your friends might be abrasive and controlling because you are, and they’re merely reacting to what they’re hearing. Avoid using the word “you” in your conversations with them. Replace the word “you” with the word “I’ and use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. In conflict, choose to express your emotions by using the phrase “I feel…” rather than attacking or blaming. Sometimes people have unprocessed pain, wounds, or issues that they have not addressed completely, and they are taking it out on you because they are in close proximity to you. Because they choose to treat you in this manner does not mean you have to take responsibility. Respond by telling them how you feel when they treat you this way. Give suggestions on how you’d rather be treated instead. Don’t leave the situation open-ended, where the friend is confused as to how to change his or her behavior. With some coaxing, you may find they may change their communication simply by watching you change yours.
4. Call Them Out
If your friend lacks emotional maturity, it may be best to simply call them out. Sometimes people are unaware of their sins and need someone to point them out. Nathan, the prophet, took a great risk in pointing out David’s sin. David was so unaware of what he was doing (committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband), that it wasn’t until Nathan pointed it out that he could repent and turn from his ways. “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:5-6). If no one in their lives is telling them they are too controlling or harsh, it may be your job to do so. By loving yourself and not allowing that behavior to affect you, you may be doing your friends and, ultimately, yourself a great benefit.
5. Set Firm Boundaries
The book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend is a great resource for people in toxic relationships. By setting firm boundaries, you are still allowing growth in your relationship while sustaining it. To set boundaries does not mean you must terminate the relationship, although you may have to in some circumstances. If setting boundaries is your next course of action, you may need to use “you” statements by telling them you will no longer tolerate their behavior. You can also let them know what will happen in the future if they continue to cross this boundary. You must be willing to separate yourself from this individual or sometimes terminate the relationship if it’s what’s best for you. Although it is important to love others more than yourself, Jesus never told us to endure abuse or control. Sometimes letting go of a bad relationship so you can experience emotional and mental wellness is the best example of Jesus you can demonstrate.
Like any relationship, a friendship can be a difficult one to navigate. Even if you have been friends with someone for a long time, it does not give them the right to treat you any way they choose. By setting firm boundaries, using “I’ statements, and being an example of Jesus, you may have to have hard conversations with your friends. But in doing so, you may end up with an enriching and rewarding friendship in the end.
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Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.