Remaining Friends in Disagreement

It is a tragedy when friendships dissolve over disagreements.  At some time or another, conflict within relationships is inevitable due to differing temperaments, misunderstandings, and other extraneous factors that influence who we are, what we believe, and how we view the world.  It seems, however, that most of us erroneously assume that we’ll get along with our friends without unexpected hiccups.  When a hot-button issue becomes the topic for lively debate, and you chime in with your opinion, what happens if the conversation quickly turns sour?

The root of conversation should be mutually enriching and based upon an unspoken understanding that friends, while different, are speaking and listening to each other out of charity.  Here are three ways that we can disagree with our friends without harming or severing the relationship.

Understand differences in temperament (yours and theirs)

Are you a choleric, sanguine, melancholic, or phlegmatic?  If you are unfamiliar with the four temperaments (which are closely related to personality), get acquainted with them.  After reading The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett, my entire understanding of human behavior dramatically shifted.  Before reading it, I would often respond defensively to those who questioned or outright challenged my opinion, but this book honestly helped me to grasp the motivations behind why and how we react to questions and comments in social situations.

Cholerics are the lions who take charge.  Their ambition and need to be right often outweighs their ability to speak charitably.  To the choleric, a direct approach and forthright response is favorable to a more diplomatic one.  Arguments often fuel his quest for obtaining knowledge, and he is unafraid to engage in debate rigorously and vocally.

The goal of a sanguine, however, is to get everyone to laugh and enjoy the merriment of fellowship.  Sanguines are more concerned with relationships than with rhetorical questions or lending their perspective on a specific social, political, or moral issue.  The sanguine is a natural extrovert whose preference is lighthearted conversation rather than discussing dense dissertations.

Melancholics are the sensitive, pensive souls who both think and feel deeply, especially about matters pertaining to truth and justice.  He will offer his honest opinion when asked, but if an argument ensues, he may retreat inwardly for some introspection.  The melancholic often internalizes feedback from others in conversation, yet doesn’t always speak up about issues of personal importance to him.  He is a natural introvert who prefers to listen to others converse while noting the errors in the argument.

Phlegmatics are the natural peacemakers in a group.  Not only will they likely refrain from discussing tense or terse topics, but their main concern is to also make sure everyone is getting along.  Cooperation and unity are highly valued by the phlegmatic, who likely will chime in with a thoughtful and diplomatic point during a lively discussion.

When you understand your own natural inclination in handling difficult topics of conversation with others, you can then observe the dynamics of everyone else who is present for the discussion.  Who initiates the dreaded question about politics?  It’s probably the choleric.  Who are the ones observing those playing verbal ping-pong?  They might be the melancholics or phlegmatics.  If anyone is interjecting with appropriate puns to offer a bit of levity to the heavy tone of the conversation, you can bet that is your sanguine.

Get to know yourself and others.  When you can at least empathize with their temperaments (especially if they differ from yours), then you’ve established a strong foundation for appreciating how their viewpoints may present some valid food-for-thought when those dreaded discussions about abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc. develop.

Listen first, then pray

No one enjoys being verbally attacked, let alone anticipates it.  If your friend says something that you interpret as a personal affront, hold your tongue before responding.  (Note: This is extremely difficult for the choleric to do!  And melancholics will likely be deeply hurt but not necessarily say so right away.)  Listen to what your friend is saying, and attempt to glean a deeper message beyond what you may have misunderstood to be a direct assault to your identity.  This can be challenging if someone is mocking Catholicism, and you associate your faith with your inherent identity.

Friends don’t typically intend to hurt each other.  Try to remind yourself of that when he or she is bantering ad infinitum about something about which you feel passionately the opposite.  It’s important to separate one’s opinion of a topic from one’s opinion of you.

While you are listening, try to do so attentively and openly.  Really make an effort to see your friend’s point of view before speculating or judging.  This is where it’s best to offer a quick, silent prayer that the Holy Spirit may enter into this conversation and eradicate any sort of spirit of division or misunderstanding.  Ask Him to speak to your heart: Should you respond or keep quiet, offering occasional nods of the head or other nonverbal cues of validation?  If you feel you are called to respond, take the next step.

Respond with love, sometimes

If your friend is yapping about how antiquated the Catholic Church is, because everyone knows that using birth control or getting sterilized are healthy options for women’s health care, listen with your heart.  While you may have just miscarried a baby or suffered from hidden infertility, and your friend is egregiously defending her right to stop having babies, don’t assume that she understands your cross…or the true stance of the Church.

Instead of proselytizing, try to educate.  Start by offering examples of how contraception has contributed to the increased rates of reproductive cancers in women or how it’s rated by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 Carcinogen.  If she responds defensively or disrespectfully, it’s okay to let her know that this is a very personal topic for you, and you’d be glad to revisit it some other time if she’s willing to hear your perspective.

Ultimately, we want to make our faith (and everything it entails) attractive to our friends.  We don’t want to push them away with our severe religiosity or capitulate to gravely immoral opinions.  We all commit sins of commission and omission, but it really is possible to keep our friendships without compromising our values by listening, praying, and responding in love.

As we grow in spiritual maturity, this process becomes less of a conscious hassle and more of a natural way of relating to others.  When we respect ourselves and know who we are, while also respecting others and who they are, we are practicing the virtue of charity.  Charity isn’t necessarily comfortable in practice, because sometimes we will have to enter into really difficult confrontations with our friends if we know they are living a sinful life.  But with prudence, we will take a step back and both evaluate the past and consider the implications of our future conversations.  Love doesn’t ask us to be rash.  Instead, with patience and discernment through prayer, we can learn to balance candid honesty with attentive listening.

True friendships speak a heart language that supersedes the occasional disagreement.  Irrespective of our differences, we can clash and still come together in mutual respect and admiration for each other.


Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose.  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website

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  • Judithaa

    Well, it’s a little late for this article! after all the Catholic writers and some egotistical priests have written terrible, horrible, insulting things about a presidential candidate (TRUMP) and that person’s supporters! That’s why I; as a Catholic, have seen the ‘light’ and listen to them no more. They are nothing but a bunch of phonies, hypocrites! I love my Catholic faith but I’ll re-read all the great saints (who were great sinners) before I read the trash these “holy rollers” of today write.

  • bringiton

    Judithaa…well Trump isn’t pro-life (not even against partial birth abortion!!!), so you, being a “Catholic” and having “seen the light”, should know on your own that he wouldn’t be one to vote for. Unless, of course, you’re a “cafeteria Catholic”, not following the teachings of the Church.

  • Rhiannon122

    Not only is he pro-choice, he’s pathologically narcissistic! All he talks about ise in himself and how great he is. We have a pro-choice, pathological narcissist NOW. Why would we vote another?? Haven’t we learned our lesson? We also do NOT need a congenital liar like Hillary.

  • anniem

    Respectfully I would suggest that you look for resources that will give you some information about what the Church teaches, perhaps a respected priest in your parish or a priest friend who will discuss with you, your concerns. I too am concerned about much of what Trump stands for, and I have read the blogs from priests and others who vehemently disagree with him. But voting for someone just because you have read negative things about him-might not be the best motivation for choosing that candidate. It will be a tough call this year, given that none of the primary candidates are ideal. I like Cruz but just read he is supporting companies that push genetically modified foods. Yikes! Lots of prayer is needed before election day, and even after, for whoever is voted the next President. And have a few Masses offered, too.

  • Judithaa

    Thank you for writing back so thoughtfully. I actually am very well informed about our political situation and the candidates. I also am very well informed about the Catholic faith. I actually love every one of Trumps platforms and live in south Fl. and have known people who have worked for him. I know he is pro-life with 3 exceptions but I also believe that he will be the only one that will be able to change our country in that aspect and also promote real pro-life people to the SCOTUS. I think you misunderstood me, I would never vote for someone just because people trashed a person. I am just so totally disgusted that they would do this to Trump when I feel that he is doing such a selfless act as to run for the presidency when he clearly doesn’t have to and when I believe his reason is because he loves America so much and wants to give back. ‘To whom much is given, much will be required and I think he is doing that’. I was all in for Trump from the beginning and much more so now. And yes, I get Natural News and saw that Cruz is for GMO’s which is absurd. We are vegans, so that really turned me off but then, Cruz and I disagree about so much especially all the money he takes and is beholden to. Yes, lots of prayer is needed.

  • Judithaa

    TRUMP–“Let me be clear—I am pro-life. I support that position with exceptions allowed for rape, incest or the life of the mother being at risk. I did not always hold this position, but I had a significant personal experience that brought the precious gift of life into perspective for me. My story is well documented, so I will not retell it here. However, what I will do with the remaining space is express my feelings about life, and the culture of life, as we approach the 43nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade.

    I build things. There is a process involved in building things. We tap into a lot of disciplines with engineering being one of the most important. The rules for putting structures together are as strict as are the rules of physics. These rules have stood the test of time and have become the path to putting together structures that endure and are beautiful. America, when it is at its best, follows a set of rules that have worked since our founding. One of those rules is that we, as Americans, revere life and have done so since our Founders made it the first, and most important, of our “unalienable” rights.

    Over time, our culture of life in this country has started sliding toward a culture of death. Perhaps the most significant piece of evidence to support this assertion is that since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Count 43 years ago over 50 million Americans never had the chance to enjoy the opportunities offered by this country. They never had the chance to become doctors, musicians, farmers, teachers, husbands, fathers, sons or daughters. They never had the chance to enrich the culture of this nation or to bring their skills, lives, loves or passions into the fabric of country. They are missing, and they are missed.

    The Supreme Court in 1973 based their decision on imagining rights and liberties in the Constitution that are nowhere to be found. Even if we take the court at its word, that abortion is a matter of privacy, we should then extend the argument to the logical conclusion that private funds, then, should subsidize this choice rather than the half billion dollars given to abortion providers every year by Congress. Public funding of abortion providers is an insult to people of conscience at the least and an affront to good governance at best.

    If using taxpayer money to facilitate our slide to a culture of death was not enough, the 1973 decision became a landmark decision demonstrating the utter contempt the court had for federalism and the 10th Amendment. Roe v. Wade gave the court an excuse to dismantle the decisions of state legislatures and the votes of the people. This is a pattern that the court has repeated over and over again since that decision. Perhaps Roe v. Wade became yet another incidence of disconnect between the people and their government.

    We are in the middle of a presidential political cycle and votes will be cast in just days. The citizens of this nation will have the chance to vote for candidates that are aligned with their individual worldviews. It is my hope that they will choose the builder, the man who has the ability to imagine the greatness of this nation. The next President must follow those principles that work best and that reinforce the reverence Americans hold for life. A culture of life is too important to let slip away for convenience or political correctness. It is by preserving our culture of life that we will Make America Great Again.”

  • Judithaa
  • Rhiannon122

    I am curious since I do like Cruz. Where did you read that article about his supporting GMO’s? I’d like to read it too. Thanks in advance! God bless you all.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Good thoughts, Darran, and I see what you’re saying. It’s hard to fit all particulars into one article, but I like your suggestion and will keep it in mind. Sometimes we have to put some distance between us and another person for a variety of reasons, but we can still do this charitably and in a way that communicates the love of Christ. Thank you for taking the time to write out your thoughts and to make such a fine suggestion.

    If you or anyone would like to see more articles on a particular subject, feel free to drop me a line at and I will do my best to make it happen. We also take submissions if it’s up your alley. Cheers, and may God bless the rest of your Lent!

  • Darran McDonnell

    Thank you very much! Likewise, God bless!

  • anniem

    I am so sorry I have forgotten where I read this-possibly on a health website? Good luck-perhaps googling Cruz/GMO will bring you to the article.

  • Rhiannon122

    Ok thanks anyway. I’ll see what I can find.