Care Fronting

A Creative Way Through Conflict

“Caring.” Obviously a good word. “Confronting”? Frequently a bad word.

Both are highly important relational words. Put together they provide the unique combination of love and truth that is necessary for building effective human relationships.

The more common practice is to keep these two distinct and separate. ‘There is a time for caring. There is a time for confronting.”Care when caring is called for, confront when confrontation is required.” Each in its own place, each in its own right time.’

Caring dare not be contaminated by any mixture of confrontation. And confronting must not be diluted by any admixture of caring. Each weakens the other. To confront powerfully, lay care aside. To care genuinely, candor and confrontation must be forgotten, for the moment at least.

“When someone matters to me — really matters, I do not dare to disagree: to differ is to disrespect; I cannot confront, because hurting another is the very last thing I want.”

“When I’m angry, I confront. To talk of caring at a moment like that would be false. I speak the truth as I see it and let the chips fly from my shoulder to fall where they may.”

A third word: “Care-fronting.” A good word.

Care-fronting is offering genuine caring that lifts, supports and encourages the other. (To care is to bid another to grow, to welcome, invite and support growth in another.)

Care-fronting is being upfront with important facts that can call out new awareness, insight and understanding. (To confront effectively is to offer the maximum of useful information with the minimum of threat and stress.)

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Care-fronting is loving and level conversation. It unites the love one has for the other with the honest truth that I am able to see about the two of us. Care-fronting unifies concern for relationship with concerns for goals — my goals, your goals, our goals. So one can have something to stand for (goals) as well as someone to stand with (relationship) without sacrificing one for the other or collapsing one into another. This allows each of us to be genuinely loving without giving away one’s power to think, choose and act. In such honesty, one can love powerfully and be powerfully loving. These are not contradictory. They are complementary. (The opposite is to express powerless love until anger erupts in loveless power — to yield in pseudo-love until one overloads to the breaking point and then explode with demands heated to the boiling point.)

“That was a tasteless thing to do, just like your mother . . .” your husband mutters over dinner. You swallow twice at food gone flat, freeze into angry silence, get up from the table. (He shows no surprise at this familiar routine. You fumble a response to one of the kids, his critical words cut to the quick, and you retreat to lick the wound.)

You see in the shrug of his shoulders that he knows your next move — flight to the bedroom, an evening and night of cold, withdrawn anger. When you feel rejected, you reject. (So? He cuts you off, and off you go to sulk.)

“What have I ever gained by running?” you ask yourself. “The longer I brood, the more I hurt. I know what I need to do. Talk, not walk — tell him what I’m feeling.” (Would you dare to go back, to say what you feel, what you need, what you want?)

“Perhaps the time is now,'” you decide. You slow the feelings that press to rush out. You weigh and then say what really matters to you, what is your truth.

“When you criticize me like that, I feel rejected. I hurt. I usually run. But what I really want is to tear down the prickly hedge between us and to be able to feel close to you again. And to do that, I need – I want — in fact, I demand that you respect me as me. I am not my mother. I am who I am.” He’s silent. He nods in surprise. He’s not used to hearing feelings and needs described so clearly. He’s seldom heard you say what you really want.

(Memo to self: When cut by sharp words, silent withdrawal is self-defeating. Explosive counterattack is self-destructive. What is needed is a clear, nondefensive statement of what I feel, need, want. If I confront with what I really want, I am caring enough about our getting together, to risk.)

Care-fronting is, arguably, the most valuable secret for reforming conflicts. To care and to be clear at the same time is mature relating; to be truly for the other and to stand for what you value when with the other, without sacrificing either, is not just to be adept at interpersonal communication; it is what it means to be adult. The twin abilities of (1) concern for the other and (2) commitment to one’s freely chosen goals do not need to be sacrificed, compromised or conflicted. They can both be sought in harmony and healthful assertiveness.

Care-fronting has a unique view of conflict. It sees conflict as natural, normal, neutral and sometimes even delightful. It recognizes that conflict can turn into painful or disastrous ends, but it doesn’t need to. Conflict of itself is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. Conflict simply is. How we view, approach and work through our differences does — to a large extent — determine our whole life pattern.

Adapted from Caring Enough to Confront: How to Understand and Express Your Deepest Feelings Toward Others
Copyright © 2008 David Augsburger. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Published by Gospel Light.