Whether casual, professional, familial, domestic, platonic, or romantic, all relationships inevitably lead to some kind of conflict. How thoroughly a dispute is managed depends on the nature of the relationship. You’re not going to have a sit-down discussion with a casual acquaintance, trading insights and expletives and eventually apologies. Instead, that relationship is likely over, unless a resolution is achieved immediately. But, intrinsically, acquaintances are a low priority for most people, preferring to end an acquaintanceship instead of initializing or engaging in a confrontation.
The point being, how two parties come to a resolution depends on the degree of importance each party ascribes to the relationship. Every person has their own relationship hierarchy, about which relationships are a higher priority than others. Traditionally, familial connections are strongest, which no person or situation can come between. Some rank professional relationships higher than romantic ones while some rank romantic relationships higher than familial. And still we have relationships which are necessities like roommates.
However, no matter the type of relationship, someone must admit culpability and someone must forgive, whenever there is contention between two people. A personal offense is tricky. Like an allergy, personal offense is more often than not inexplicable, falling to guesswork; the unrelated conditions of an offense are often unknowable to the offender. Maybe someone had a bad day; its 95 degrees outside, he’s sleep deprived, his bank account is low, his mother is in the hospital, and then you make a joke at his expense. You just said a small joke, maybe it went a little too far, maybe not, and you definitely didn’t know all the stressors in his life, so his reaction will be unexpected and seem disproportionate to you. This is just an example, with multifarious interpretations. But for any relationship to survive a slight, the slight must be recognized and acknowledged by both sides, leading to apologies.
Pro-tip: It’s my belief that “Sorry” and “I apologize” cannot be said enough; quantity is quality when apologizing.
As addressed above, casual relationships are dead in the water unless the offense is immediately recognized by the offender and the apology found sufficient by the offended. Even then, acquaintances might be irrecoverable and fizzle out. Coincidence, like taking the train at the same time every day, being in the same class, and going to the same parties, is often the deepest commonality that a casual relationship relies on, which isn’t a strong basis to begin with. So, any associated unhappiness (even if addressed and resolved) is reason enough for most people to end an acquaintance-based relationship.
Professional & Domestic
I lump these two together because both are inescapable relations unless you quit your job or move-out, but financial necessity doesn’t take into account your feelings, so you’re probably stuck in either relationship for an indefinite amount of time.
Once a person is offended by a co-worker or housemate, that relationship tends to devolve into a strained and often tense arrangement of required politeness, where both individuals keep to themselves as much as possible. That is until the arrangement turns so unbearable or malicious that someone or something forces both parties to address their issues (which, at this point, are enigmatic to the point of ineffability).
How should you proceed? You could bring in a higher power i.e. your supervisor or other housemates. Supervisors don’t like dealing with issues like these and housemates tend to take sides anyways, and in all likelihood will just force a stalemate between you and your now nemesis. What has to happen is someone, you or the nemesis, must cross the demilitarized zone and come together in your mutual dislike of one another; address the animosity (clear the air) and both realize that you each have very good reasons for your dislike of the other that serves no purpose in rehashing. Find a couple simple terms to placate each other and apologize in a “sorry,”, “no, I’m sorry,” manner until it’s indubitably understood that you both are, for real, sorry. Since professional and domestic relations are unavoidable, just figure out a way to mend them sooner rather than later, otherwise the mandatory day in, day out will be miserable (as if it isn’t already).
Familial relationships baffle a third person sensibility. Something about hurling fist-like objects and verbal acid at each other in the morning and cooperatively playing video games together in the evening, without any mention of the morning’s showdown, is inexplicable and defies the reasoned methods for conflict resolution this article seeks to address.
As far as I’m concerned, these types of familial relationships and challenges are healthy and require no further comment.
Friendships are weird. I’ve seen friends abort a friendship of over half a decade over a simple disagreement. I’ve also seen friends remain friends after an action I personally would have ended a friendship over. Often utilitarian, what makes a friend is the consistent good feelings you associate with another person, and the moment those good feelings are gone, so is the friendship. Sometimes friendships transcend reason and can be categorized as sibling-like bonds (for how to handle these, see my remarks above in the ‘familial’ section). But, for most, true friendships are somewhere in between.
No social convention requires that friendships last. Equal recognition and appreciation of another person’s qualities are the basis of platonic friendships, so when a friendship is rattled by conflict, nothing keeps two friends together if the conflict isn’t resolved and the appreciated qualities aren’t remembered. When contention strikes, it’s good to remember why you became friends in the first place. Someone in an argument has to be the bigger person and put themselves in a vulnerable place to remind the other why they are friends. Lots of times these things are unsaid or just prompted: “Come on, what are we doing?” Saying that says to the other person that you’re friends and don’t want to fight with them. If the other person agrees, you have to communicate your issues and apologies must be said and often shared, before the friendship can return to normal.
Romantic relationships go through a confusing continuum of casual, platonic, and familial relationship stages. On the one hand, you choose your significant other, on the other hand, time chooses your significant other for you. Meaning that over time what was once a mutual choice melds into a commitment that feels as inherently binding as a biological family bond.
During the initial dating stages, the nature of the relationship is more like between two acquaintances because any disagreement or conflict, even if pacified and apologized for and forgiven, is likely insurmountable for one person, thus ending the relationship. My only advice to the person who doesn’t want the brand new relationship to end is to respect the other person’s decision.
After a while, romantic relationships enter a platonic-like phase, where minor conflict is not relationship ending. But, minor conflicts that go unaddressed will build resentment over time to the point someone decides to end the relationship. So, big or small, all disagreements in a relationship should be examined, especially when one partner is more upset than the other. No offense is too small or irrational if the person you like and maybe love) is upset over it.
Nick recently moved from San Diego to Chicago. In his spare time, he power lifts, plays pool, snowboards, and hikes. A past student of philosophy, he receives greater enjoyment from literature, science fiction, and studying dead languages. Currently, he’s embarking on a career in the legal field.