Dealing With Conflict: You Can’t Make Old Friends

Leah Zantingh   -  

When my husband proposed to me in 2014, the next obvious step in planning the wedding day was to gather my bridesmaids. For me, it wasn’t just about having a posse who would make me look good for a day, it was about building something strong.

When I asked my friends to stand with me on my wedding day, I was asking them to be allies in my marriage for years to come. I was about to make a vow before God to commit to one person for the rest of my life, which is no small thing. I hoped that in the future my friends would hold me accountable, cheer us on and encourage us, if and when things got tough.

Peter and I have been married for almost eight years now and I’m so grateful that almost all six of my bridesmaids are still close to me and believe in my marriage. Of course, my friendships all go deeper and cover more ground than just my covenant with my husband.

I turned 30 on January 4th, and these girls (some others as well) took me on a surprise birthday getaway! It was luxurious, fun, restoring and relaxing. I laughed so hard I could hardly catch my breath. We shared deep conversations about our hearts and our hopes for the coming years. When the conversation came around to focus on one of my friends who is now living 3 hours away from the rest of us, she expressed how much she treasured our relationships. She has since made other friends, but none compare to her old ones.

Now that we all have more than a decade of friendship shared between us, we realize that time is irreplaceable. The memories and bonds we’ve formed over pivotal moments in life are irreplaceable. We were looking at a room full of irreplaceable friends. You can make new friends at any time, but you can’t make old friends.

How did we get here? Well, let me tell you it has not been without some struggles and pain. Conflict is undeniably a key ingredient to lasting friendships. I’m a huge believer in this truth.

My closest friends and I can look back and see the concrete bridges we have built together; they can withstand the widest, heaviest loads because they are not weak or easily broken. We have been through things that have tested the weight we have driven over our relationships, hoping we will always get to the other side.

This takes bravery and trust, and requires vulnerability. To be able to have what I share with my friends today is possible because we chose to be real with each other. That can sound lovely on paper, but in the moment, put into practice, this looks messy! Can we agree that humans are messy?

There is no such thing as the perfect friendship where no one ever argues, disagrees, or needs to clean up their mess by saying, “I’m so sorry. I love you.” Friendships without those things are surface-level. They are connected by weak wooden bridges, sometimes even a rickety rope bridge (like the one in The Emperor’s New Groove, or Pirates of the Caribbean). These bridges didn’t cost much to make. They took little sacrifice, time, and minimal substance to create.

I know all of this because I stand on the other side of both kinds of bridges, the stone and the rope, and here is the truth: the pain of conflict that results in a stronger friendship is far less painful than the pain that follows losing a friend because of avoiding conflict.

I have spent the last five years mourning a friendship that has gradually faded simply because we avoided uncomfortable conversations. I don’t know what happened; I have wondered almost every day if it was something I said or did, but I may never know because this person has expressed that they are not ready to sit down with me and be vulnerable.

I have lost sleep over this. I have made up countless stories about what my old friend must think or has felt happened between us. Avoiding conflict with this specific friend cost us everything. We have nothing to stand on now.

It feels like a tragic waste of 20 years, but maybe it wasn’t. I know God can bring beauty from ashes.

Reader, I am crying as I write this. What I wouldn’t give to go back five years and push harder for a one-on-one conversation. I wish I had worked up the confidence and courage to beg for the opportunity to sit down, and create a safe space for both of us to be vulnerable and share what was unspoken.

Prayer is the only tool I have to hold hope now. I know that if reconciliation were to happen I have postured my heart to be open. All I can control is me; my side of the bridge. I’m ready and willing to restore the connection. I’ll be here when my old friend feels ready.

Conflict is necessary.

When done with the intent of seeking connection, conflict is healthy. This is widely understood in marriage, but it is also true for long-lasting friendships. Proverbs 17 is full of gold nuggets, including verses 9 and 17:

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” The Message translation broadens the scope and sharpens the imagery here, “Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.”

I won’t pretend to know everything about friendships or marriage. I have my experiences, my hurts, and my victories. At 30, I feel like I’m just now able to start seeing things more clearly in my rear-view mirror. I’m certain that in all close relationships–spouse, children, family, old friends–the goal should always be to keep our love ‘on’.

I frequently listen to The KYLO Show podcast, with Danny Silk and his daughter Brittany Serpell. They are believers who are seeing the fruit of living this way for three generations. If you’re currently dealing with conflict or not sure what to do in a friendship, I highly recommend listening to their wisdom. They will also answer your questions via audio recording, and you can send them in for the Q&A portion of each weekly episode.

God never turned off His love toward us even when we absolutely deserved to be cut off. We repeatedly betray our closest friend, Jesus. But thank the Lord He has always upheld His side of the bridge. God is faultless, blameless, and faithful. What a friend we have in Jesus!

As we live to be more Christlike, keeping our love ‘on’ looks like this:

Messy people who can still

be powerful,

choose love over fear,

pursue the goal of connection,

practice respectful communication,

and honour healthy boundaries.

I’m certain these strong friendship bonds are what make our Heavenly Father happy. This is achievable, by his grace. It can be hard, but it is possible and rewarding when both sides live this way.

You can only control yourself, and there will always be people in your life who struggle to be vulnerable or hold up their end of the bridge that connects you. But when your end is held up, there is always hope for reconciliation.