Conflict, Boundaries, and Learning to Find Balance in Friendships

When a friendship goes bad…

Lindsey sat in the cafeteria expecting to have a normal lunch time with her favorite group of friends. But when Gabby stood up, faced Lindsey, and asked some other girls to join her side, the sandwich Lindsey had just finished eating turned to concrete in her stomach.

The entire cafeteria tuned in, as Gabby read out loud a letter detailing Lindsey’s shortcomings as a person and why the two of them would no longer be friends. Gabby finished by stating that since Lindsey had so few friends, she would allow her to keep Tammy as a token friend. (I suppose Gabby assumed she would keep the rest of the school as her friends.)

Though tears ran down Lindsey’s face, she held her head high and walked away. It wasn’t until she got home that she released the full force of her grief and spoke to her mother about the situation.

The girls would have to be together at a party the next night, which meant Lindsey needed advice. Her mother offered her wisdom, “The biggest challenge you face now is to remember who you are in Christ.” She also offered Lindsey two other important truths:

1.  Gabby’s incorrect assumption that she had ownership over people.

2.  If there was any truth in what Gabby said, especially the part about Lindsey being moody?

They also discussed how Lindsey could avoid creating drama, especially at the party, and how to keep clear boundaries if Gabby acted unkind again.

Friendship is difficult, especially in our school years.

Yet, there’s no age limit on relationship upheavals. Whether we are in middle school or middle-aged, relationships from acquaintances to family to marriage can be tricky minefields of conflict.


Find Balance in Friendships

Finding balance in friendships

So, what friendship qualities should we look to grow in ourselves and appreciate in others?

As I read through the Bible this morning and prayed about what to write, I thought over a few basic friendship principles that have served me well as I continue to understand what it means to be a friend.

Beware of judging. Casting judgment on others is showing contempt for the riches of God’s kindness. (Romans 2:1-4)

Be a Grace-Giver. We should give people freedom to be human. We all make mistakes, so we shouldn’t expect anyone to be perfect. At the same time, we shouldn’t go on hurting people and expecting them to give us unending grace. (John 15:12)

Be honest with yourself. No one is perfect, so when we make mistakes, we should admit it to ourselves and to those we have wronged. We can apologize and pray about becoming more like Christ. (Romans 12:3)

Be sincere. People aren’t projects, whether we are trying to share our Christian faith with them or meeting a friend for lunch. We should love them for who they are. (Romans 12:9)

Be mentored. Finding a wise mentor to guide us through the challenges of life makes all the difference. Gabby, in the above story, did not seem to have sought wisdom for her actions. Lindsey, on the other hand, talked to her mother before her next interaction with Gabby. (Proverbs 27:17)

Be mindful of keeping boundaries. For years I thought being a Christian meant I had to let other people hurt me repeatedly and still forget about it. I thought protecting myself was detrimental to friendships. But, I’ve learned the opposite is true. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships. I do need to forgive and not harbor anger in my heart and be all of the above, but I don’t have to be best friends with someone who hurts me repeatedly either.

Jesus set boundaries*. So can I.

Some of Jesus’ examples in boundary-setting:

Against angry outbursts: When the religious leaders became angry and chased him out of town, Jesus walked away from them and ignored their angry abuse. (Luke 4:28-30)

Against harming others: When the religious leaders abused the temple grounds and used the temple as a means to extort money from the people, Jesus drove the offenders out of the temple. (Matt 21:12-13)

Family boundaries: When Jesus’ family tried to sway Him from His ministry, Jesus rebuked them. (Mark 3:31-24)

Against peer pressure and demands of others: When the people tried to keep Jesus from leaving, He rebuked them and did what He was called to do. (Luke 4:42-44)

Jesus’ ultimate boundary: Jesus says He is the only way to eternal life. (John 14:3)

Navigating friendships and drawing boundaries can be difficult, especially in stressful situations, but there is peace to be found.

Do you have any suggestions for finding balance or setting boundaries within friendships? Who do you go to for friendship advice?


2 thoughts on “Conflict, Boundaries, and Learning to Find Balance in Friendships”

  1. I have a little sister who repeatedly hurts my feelings. I don’t know what to do because family has to be there for family right? But one day she wants to be buddies then the next she hurts my feelings, is it okay to set up barriers?
    -please help

    1. Lexi, thanks for your honesty. Sibling relationships bring many rewards, but many challenges, especially when we all live together under the same roof. Boundaries are perfectly reasonable to set in sibling relationships. An example would be, “[Sister], I love you and I want to be here for you, but I will not listen when you speak to me in that tone of voice or with harsh words.” Something I’ve learned over the years is the best boundaries are set in a compassionate and calm manner. They have clear expectations and are not impossible to meet. The point is not to hurt others, but to set expectations for interactions. The challenge is to look into our own hearts to see if we treat others the same way we want them to treat us. Are we following the boundaries we’ve set for others? Praying for wisdom and the ability to see ourselves honestly helps with this.

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