After the confrontation
‘Pretending’ is a valid way to begin the healing process.
When we think about a confrontation, we think about handling the situation, and we tend not to think any further than that. We assume that once we work up the nerve to confront the other person, everything will return to normal. Unfortunately, that won’t necessarily ever happen, and certainly it won’t happen immediately.
“Karen” and I had a major disagreement professionally and a confrontation to go along with it. We both got very emotional and the situation actually got to the point where mediation was required.
In the years that followed, Karen became very good at avoiding me. She stopped attending events where she knew I would be. While our disagreement was technically over, she was unable to handle the tension that followed and preferred to avoid me altogether.
I can completely relate to her approach, and in fact I have done exactly the same thing recently. I had a confrontation in my personal life that ended up in a win-lose situation. I felt that I had lost; I had not gotten what I had wanted from the situation.
This resulted in residual anger within me which caused me to avoid “John” and his wife “Jennifer” at any events we would both be attending. I backed out of events, I went the long way around rooms, and I even showed up late so I wouldn’t have to chat with them. These dodges worked well for me, and I assumed it was the best way to deal with the situation until my emotion tapered off, taking the tension along with it.
Originally, my confrontation and tension were with John. However, since most people confide in others, creating camps, he naturally confided in his wife. The tension in the relationship was no longer between John and myself; Jennifer was now part of the awkward situation.
Although this happened some time ago, it created a very high level of tension in my life for quite some time. While I practiced avoidance, John and Jennifer were downright dismissive of me. If I was unable to avoid meeting them, they would look the other way, pretend to be speaking to someone else, or look right through me as if I wasn’t there. At one point, we all descended from opposite elevators at the same time, and I felt invisible. Even though I wasn’t ready to breach our relationship gap, I pretended everything was fine and said “Hello,” hoping to start a brief, yet friendly, conversation. They didn’t acknowledge me. Not surprisingly, this caused increased tension and downright anger on my part.
Pretence, like avoidance and dismissal, is a way of dealing with interpersonal tension. Although pretending is not easy, it is useful to get your dysfunctional conflict to a place where you can pretend that everything is fine.
That’s where I am with one of my family members. Our disagreement has existed for years. However, once or twice a year, I am in a family situation where we both pretend that we get along. We never speak of the situation that caused our initial tension. We no longer feel the need to force each other to admit she was wrong. We are polite and friendly, and although it is completely superficial, it is the right way for us to handle the tension from our previous confrontation.
Back to Karen
After several years of avoiding me, my professional colleague, Karen, finally attended an event. I didn’t want our fractured relationship to spiral downward any further. Our confrontation was over, and it was time to move on. I found Karen and asked if we could have coffee to talk about things. She agreed. It was a risky move on my part, and I don’t regret it at all. I took the high road. Enough time had passed so that I no longer wanted Karen to avoid me. I needed to pretend initially in the conversation, to at least start the talking. Fortunately, she didn’t dismiss me the way John and Jennifer had.
The next time we have coffee, I am sure we will have the requisite ‘weather’ conversation (pretending) until we can comfortably speak about what happened, agree to no longer avoid, and move on to a new level in our relationship.
Avoidance is procrastination. Tension will not go away if it is forever avoided. You need to get to the point where you can move to ‘pretend’ mode.
Dismissal is continuing to fight. There will be no winners, only scars that last a lifetime and potentially escalate to a higher level of confrontation in the future. With the dismissal I felt from John and Jennifer the tension instantly built again. While I was willing (even if not ready) to ‘pretend’ that all was well, I was angry at the disrespect I felt from them.
I’ve moved back into avoidance mode with John and Jennifer until I feel I can move into pretend mode. Until John and Jennifer are ready to do the same thing, the residual tension will continue to exist and make pretending much harder in the future. Perhaps it will never happen, but since I don’t intend to live with this tension forever, I will continue to put myself on-the-right-track by dealing with this negative emotion.
Pretending is by definition artificial, but it is a valid first step to recovery.
It is never easy to repair relationships. There are times when it isn’t necessary, because you will never encounter that person again. There are other times when you must move yourself into pretend mode as you will consistently encounter this person. Although it is uncomfortable to pretend, at least pretence, unlike avoidance or dismissal, gets you to a place where you can attempt to repair the relationship.