Confronting the people we care about deeply can be an uncomfortable, nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of experience. Some people avoid confrontation at all costs. Growing up, some people may have witnessed their parents’ confrontations that led to defensiveness, hurt feelings, or full-blown fights between the two. Some were taught from an early age that it is better to keep your mouth shut than to draw attention to a problem. Others may routinely confront their loved ones with good intentions but in a way that harms the relationship rather than strengthening it.
Whatever the case may be, the thought of confrontation within the context of an intimate relationship may stir up feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and dread. Good news for conflict-avoiders, argument-starters, and anyone who wants to deepen the bonds of their close relationships: appropriate confrontation with loving intentions can actually strengthen your relationships.
I’m going to outline the Why, Who, What, Where, When, and How in regard to confronting loved ones so that you can feel confident in your ability to “speak the truth in love” as we are instructed to do (Ephesians 4:15).
Gentle confrontation is a communication skill that is critical for the well-being of your intimate relationships. Done effectively, confrontation conveys the following message to your loved one: I love you and I care deeply about your well-being. I’m bringing this issue to your attention to help you grow, and you can trust me to support you in the process. That is a powerful message!
Psychologist Dr. John Townsend, argues that “people need to hear reality and truth, and they must learn to take responsibility for what they hear” (2007, p. 115). Speaking truth and receiving truth are equally important. You cannot control how your loved ones will respond to your confrontations, but you can confront them in a way that lowers defenses and encourages receptiveness. Yes, truthful living can be difficult at times, but it is worthwhile. Truthful living is virtuous and beneficial to your health and well-being.
You want to see your loved ones more past their problematic tendencies that are weighing them down, preventing them from living authentically and fully. You want them to experience the peace and joy that wells up from truthful, authentic living.
Confrontation is most effective when it is between two people who share an intimate relationship with a foundation of trust. A spousal/partner relationship, close friendship, parent-child relationship, sibling relationship, or mentor/mentee relationship all qualify as intimate relationships.
Townsend outlines the most common areas to address in a confrontation: behaviors, attitudes, and speech (2017, p. 117-18).
Behaviors: You may suspect someone you love self-medicates or starves herself to attain a certain body type. Maybe you come to find your friend engaging in an extramarital affair or your thirteen-year old son watching pornography.
Attitudes: A bad attitude can be spotted from a mile away. Some struggle with selfishness or a sense of entitlement. Others are self-loathing and believe the world is against them, causing them anguish and bitterness.
Speech: If someone you love is constantly criticizing others or has difficulty controlling their tongue, you may want to confront their hurtful speech.
You should try to confront your loved one in-person and in a private area as to not embarrass her or him. By definition, a confrontation is a face-to-face encounter.
Once you’ve identified your loved one’s problematic behavior, attitude, or speech, you may be ready to confront her. But before you do, take a moment to consider, Am I confronting this issue because it is bothersome to me or because I do not want to see my loved one suffer? You should confront your loved ones’ behavior, attitude, or speech if you believe it poses a threat to their well-being.
Confrontation should be a conduit through which you express concern, empathy, and love for another person. Watch your tone; be careful not to come off as holier-than-thou, condescending, or complaining. Your attitude should be one of humility and devotion, valuing your loved one’s needs above your own (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:10). Even in your confrontation, you can strive to be a peacemaker. The Apostle Paul reminds his fellow Christian brothers and sisters,
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
While the above method for approaching confrontation does not ensure your loved one’s acceptance of your truth-telling, it promotes authenticity, honesty, and deeper connection within intimate relationships. Relationships built on truth and trust can withstand any storm.
Townsend, J. (2007). Loving People: How to Love & Be Loved. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
The Holy Bible, New Living Translation. 1996.