What's Your Reaction When Things Get Tough?

I’m writing this post because I’ve been thinking about my reactions to difficult situations with my relationships with friends and family. When I was young, I was terrified of people not liking or approving of me, which led me to avoid difficult conversations or situations. However, over the years I’ve become much more confident in who I am and what I value. Now when I am facing a tough situation, I know I have choices in how I can react.

It’s important to mention that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes to handling tough relational situations. However, your reactions can be “healthy” or “unhealthy”, depending on what is healthiest for you in the specific circumstances. Sometimes reacting one way is healthiest in one situation, but is unhealthy in another. It’s important to evaluate each situation and the specific circumstances, as well as what your needs, and the needs of others, are in the situation.

Here are some examples of typical reactions in tough relational situations:

  1. Avoidance

    Avoidance is a common reaction in relational conflict. Many of us are not comfortable addressing conflict openly, or did not learn how to talk through conflict, and so avoiding the situation completely is a common reaction. The problem with avoidance, which may seem obvious, is that the problem is never resolved. When we don’t resolve relational conflict, we can develop anger and resentment over time.

  2. Manipulation or Control

    Some people respond to relational conflict with manipulation or control. In these situations, this person may be trying to get the other person to agree with them or force them into agreeing with them. This is obviously unhealthy because when we try to manipulate or control another person into doing things the way we want them to, we’re not respecting their thoughts and feelings about the situation.

  3. Open and Honest

    Being open and honest is obviously the preferred reaction for resolving relational conflict. Being open and honest allows us to express our feelings, needs, and wants. It’s important to express our feelings openly and honestly in order to ensure that resentment and anger won’t fester over time. It’s also healthy to be open and honest about our feelings for our own mental health; we feel valued in our relationships when we feel heard.

  4. Aggression

    Aggression is another type of reaction to relational conflict. This goes without saying, but aggression is a very unhealthy reaction. Aggression is more of an overt form of manipulation, because people who are aggressive use fear to control the other person into doing or believing what they want them to.

  5. Extreme or inappropriate emotion

    Some people might have an emotional reaction to relational conflict. This sometimes takes the form of crying, or other types of emotional expression. There is absolutely nothing wrong with crying and expressing emotion. The type of emotional reaction I am talking about here, is one that is extreme and inappropriate to the situation. Some people will use extreme emotion as a way to manipulate the other person into not expressing their feelings for fear of making the other person emotional.

  6. No reaction (yes, this is a reaction)

    The final one is no reaction, and yes, this is a reaction. Sometimes it is best not to react. This might be the case in situations with a partner or close friend that did something small that bothered you, but you don’t feel it is big enough to address unless it happens again. However, this is different from avoidance because you are choosing to let the feelings go about this event, and you won’t develop anger or resentment.

I hope this post is helpful in outlining the many ways that people react to relational conflict. As I said before, there is no right or wrong way to react. It’s up to you to choose the way you want to react in any given situation. Obviously, some of the types of reactions I discussed above are clearly unhealthy. It’s best to stay away from avoidance, aggression, manipulation and control, and extreme or inappropriate emotion because they are not healthy ways of expressing emotion. The more you practice being open and honest, the easier it gets.

Stay well and healthy and reach out anytime!