DOES TAKING TIME-OUTS IN A RELATIONSHIP MAKE YOU A BAD FRIEND?
The inspiration for writing this piece came from a question a reader sent me in the mail based on my earlier post, “7 ways to know a true friend”. The question is this:
“From the 7 ways you mentioned I can very much say that I’m a good friend, but I feel like when a problem arises in the relationship I handle it in a certain way, which makes me question if I’m really a good friend. For instance, I always withdraw from my friends anytime they offend me. I will just give you the silent treatment and probably ignore your calls and avoid you for days, I’d rather not talk to you than confront you until I get over it, then I go back like nothing happened. Is this a good thing in a relationship?” – Ugochukwu O.
I will address this in the context of friendship but I might very well be talking of colleagues, parents, siblings, romantic partners and spouses. Whatever the nature of the relationship, one or both parties may sometimes act in the way Ugochukwu described.
I know two Christian friends, male and female. They tend to argue and raise their voices at each other. When it seems to be getting out of hand, the brother leaves. In his absence the sister fumes for a while. The brother too boils but lets his anger go quickly. When they meet again, they try to prevent any lingering feelings from their previous exchange to dictate their interaction knowing that regardless of their limitations and disagreements, they cherish their friendship.
It’s natural for us to all wish for only good times between us and our friends and by us, I’m referring to Christians. But the Bible says that offences must come (Matthew 18:7, Luke 17:1). That means that people will surely annoy us at some point. Though misunderstandings are inevitable, it is up to us to decide how to handle them. If the friend concerned means a lot to us, we would be willing to go a long way to heal the rift. If we don’t really care for them, we might allow the relationship to deteriorate and subsequently die or we might end it right away.
Taking time-outs is a common strategy many use right after the heat of their quarrels with friends. As Ugochukwu explained, it may consist of physically steering clear of the friend and/or temporarily suspending communication with them. If we must be in the same environment, we avoid that person as best as we can for a while. I would not like to use the term “silent treatment” because it carries a highly negative connotation and falls in the realm of emotional abuse and control. Here I am talking of someone who wants peace of mind and cordiality and opts out of interaction momentarily when discord arises so the dust can settle.
As good as our intentions may be, doing this without notice would appear rude and inconsiderate, especially when the friend is trying to contact and engage with us. Their pride and self esteem could take some knocks from our behaviour. In response, they could get mad and escalate the quarrel. On the one hand, they may feel they deserve better; on the other, their feelings of unworthiness may be reinforced leading to an attempt to end the relationship before further hurt is inflicted.
They could also be concerned about us, worrying about our wellbeing while we remain unreachable.
To be clear, taking time-outs is not generally a bad idea. It’s actually recommended. When a quarrel creates bad blood between us and our friends, we may need some space to work through our emotions. Forcing communication immediately may lead to the speaking of more harsh words which wouldn’t be the case if both parties had taken some time to cool off.
What matters is that we are taking the breather for the right reason (to sort ourselves out, not to hurt our friend) and that we don’t drag the time-out too long. If we’ve known the friend involved for long, they will probably give us the space we need without stress. As to the time, a few hours should suffice as the Bible admonishes that we don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26). What if the matter came up at night? Then I think we have less time to fix it. Bringing our feelings before the Lord is very helpful in healing our wounds and regaining our emotional balance.
The foregoing may sound simplistic because there are times when there is a lot of baggage to deal with in a relationship. In such cases, we would naturally need more time to process our thoughts and make decisions. It wouldn’t be right to just disappear, rather we let our friends know we will be apart for a while. But allowing such a separation to linger may be counterproductive.
(Related: “Please, Mama, Wait for Me!”)
I recall the story of the rift between David and his son, Absalom, after the latter killed his half-brother, Amnon, in 2 Samuel, chapter 14. He fled to his mother’s country after the incident, but when Joab, David’s army commander, noticed that he was yearning for the young man, he arranged to bring him back to Jerusalem with David’s permission. Two years later, David still refused to see Absalom. Then this happened: Absalom sent for Joab to take him to David but Joab ignored him. In response, Absalom instructed his servants to burn Joab’s field adjoining his. When they did, Joab came to ask why and Absalom insisted he should be taken to David.
“And Absalom answered Joab, Behold, I sent unto thee, saying, Come hither, that I may send thee to the king, to say, Wherefore am I come from Geshur? it had been good for me to have been there still: now therefore let me see the king’s face; and if there be any iniquity in me, let him kill me.” – 2 Samuel 14:32
Joab did take Absalom to see David. Father and son reconciled but I feel Joab had it in for Absalom henceforth with the result that when he rebelled against David, Joab didn’t hesitate to kill him once he had the chance, David’s earlier impassioned plea to his commanders to spare the young man’s life notwithstanding (2 Samuel 18:5-17, 28-33). David suffered a heartbreak from that tragedy that I doubt he ever recovered from. So no matter how grievous the offence, if we wish to continue with the relationship, we need to get together and resolve our differences as soon as possible.
Whether we bring up the matter that led to the quarrel when we get back together with our friend should depend on what actually happened and how serious the matter is. If it was just a silly misunderstanding, we can forget it. We may have got angry because we were tired, stressed from work or whatever. No need stirring those waters again. It’s wearisome discussing every little issue that arises in a relationship. The love we have for one another and God’s grace in our lives should take care of most, if not all of them.
‘Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” – Proverbs 10:12
However, if we took offence at some hurtful things our friend said, it may be necessary to request that they not speak like that again. If they didn’t realse they hurt us, it would be better they know so they can be more thoughtful in future. If our friends are demanding we do something we abhor, we need to insist that they desist from pressurising us on the matter. By and large, it is better to discuss serious sources of conflict than sweep them under the carpet.
(Related: A Testimony of Grace)
And apologies may need to be tendered. If our friends find it hard to do this, we should be more forthcoming in taking responsibility here as our faith requires. Romans 12:18 teaches that as far as it is possible and depends on us, we should live peacefully with everyone. We should also note that many people, particularly men, would act in a way that shows they are remorseful even when they don’t come out and say, “I am sorry.”
So does taking time-outs in our relationships make us bad friends? I would say it depends on why and how we do so. When the motives are right and the time spans are short, they could reinvigorate our relationships. Otherwise, they may slowly destroy those relationships. I believe that as we relate with someone, we get to know them better and there is increased understanding of each other’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. This will help us to adjust how we speak and behave towards them and reduce the need for taking time-outs after falling out. (Even then, we may still want occasional time-outs for self care and spiritual refreshing. But that is not the sort we are focusing on in this piece.)
Above all, we should not relate with people carelessly. We should entrust our relationships to the Lord so that we can be a blessing to others and they can be the same to us. And when any relationship has run its course, we should be sensitive enough to drift away as the Lord leads us.
The scriptures used in this post are from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
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