A Guaranteed Way to Create Trouble in a Relationship

BoundariesI (Dr. Cloud) can still remember what happened that day when I was eight years old. I made a big mistake, but I didn’t know it at the moment. I thought I was getting back at my sister, who was sixteen at the time. Opportunities for revenge were few and far between, and I was not about to let this one slip by.

Sharon and her friend were goofing around in the den when one of them threw a pillow and broke the overhead light. They quickly figured out a way to arrange the light in such a way that you could not tell it was broken. They thought that they were off the hook. Little did my sister know that she had a sociopathic little brother with a plan.

When my father came home, I could not wait to tell him what they had done. I told him that they had broken the light, and he asked me to show him. I led him into the den, not knowing that Sharon and her friend were still in there. I was caught. Here he was, asking me about the broken light, and there they were, watching me seal my fate as a tattletale. I do not remember what he did to them, but I can still recall what they did to me, and it was not pretty.

It would be years before I understood the principle involved in this incident. But on that day I understood the reality: When you go behind someone’s back, you can expect trouble in the relationship.

One of the most important principles in relationship is direct communication and full disclosure of whatever is going on in the relationship. I had never communicated to my sister what I thought about what she did, given her a chance to turn herself in, or even cared enough to find out if she planned to tell Dad in her own time. My actions had two overriding motivations: I wanted my sister to pay, and I was afraid to be direct with her. I was foolish enough to think that I could pull it off without her knowledge and that I wouldn’t have to deal with her anger.

Since I have become a psychologist, I have learned a lot about the destructiveness of indirect communication. This is how it happens. I have a problem with Person A, and I tell Person B. Now I have three problems: The first one that I told Person B about, the second one of Person B having feelings about person a that a doesn’t know about, and the eventual problem of Person A finding out that I told B and feeling betrayed by me.

The cousin of that dynamic occurs when Person A tells me something about Person B and then I tell Person B. B is angry with A, and A does not know why. Later, A is mad at me for telling B, or in denial that he ever said anything to me in the first place.

The Bible says much about this kind of indirect communication of truth and also about the restorative value of direct communication. Here is a sample of how God feels about our not being honest in communication:

He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool (Proverbs 10:18).

Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt (Leviticus 19:17).

When I say to a wicked man, “You will surely die,” and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood (Ezekiel 3:18).

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…Do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:25, 27).


Click to Tweet: Things are better out in the open, even if these things are negative.


Being indirect in our communication can show us to be foolish, make us a part of the problem, make us accountable for the existence of the problem, and cause us to get caught up in the Devil’s snare as we bury anger and strife.

Along with being against indirect communication, God also has much to say about the importance of direct communication in relationships and resolving things with another person:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over (Matthew 18:15).

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23–24).

Better is open rebuke than hidden love (Proverbs 27:5).

Direct communication is the best way to go through life. But many people do not deal with others in that fashion. Instead, they practice avoidance (ignoring the person or the problem) or triangulation (bringing in a third person) or overlooking.

In Boundaries, The Law of Exposure says that life is better lived in the light — that is, things are better out in the open, even if these things are negative. Whether the news is bad or not, we need to know it. Conflict or hard feelings cause a break in the connection between two people, and relationship can only be restored by communicating honestly.


Taken from The New York Times bestseller Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Click here to learn more and read a sample.

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  1. Dawn Stonerock says

    I find avoidance to be the norm in my female friends. If I confront even when I’m wrong they just say thats in the past. Makes it hard to have open relationships.

    • Piper says

      When there is a problem you have to be very careful in how you speak of it. (Example: i want to speak with you about somthing that hurts my feelings are you okay to talk about this with me?) This helps them be prepared that a conversation is coming and they don’t feel attacked because you are saying your feelings are hurt. My suggestion is to state what and how it hurts your feelings and give them the opportunity to see that you are vulnerable.

      • Jami says

        Very true, however it can difficult to show someone you’re vulnerable when they have just hurt your feelings. It certainly takes practice & trust.

  2. anna says

    no one wants any confrontation; christians can be the worst. they may even run from the relationship….theyd rather have fake superficial niceness than deal with and actually change and grow from confrontation…….i even had christians tell me i had no right to confront them, it was my problem and i should’ve taken it to god, not them….they never read the bible on this matter, but had some wrong teaching about forgiveness meaning u never confront…….

  3. says

    Such a timely word! I definitely needed this on today. Communication between me and my family has always been strained, but I Thank God for allowing me the just to get myself right. God bless the truth-spreaders!

  4. More than a conqueror says

    This is an excellent teaching. I definitely need to be more direct with people and tackle issues head-on. It’s scary for me because I have a deep fear rejection. I believe I would’ve had this fear anyway, but it definitely went into overdrive during my parents’ drama-filled divorce when I was a young child. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (and be rejected), and I didn’t want to come across as a mean person (and be rejected), so I lived with a lot of denial of my true feelings about various issues in fear of stepping on other people’s toes and confronting their sin. I stuffed down and ignored how I really felt (angry/sad/hurt) about the adults in my life’s poor choices because I didn’t want to cause any more pain or be a burden to anyone. I wasted years of my life being disconnected from and avoiding my true feelings so others could be happy and not feel the full effect of their actions. What’s so amazing is that by allowing myself to experience the depth of hurt, pain, anger, and sadness, I can grieve my losses and ultimately forgive the people who hurt me and then move on and embrace the wonderful life God has blessed me with. I’m deep into this process, and I’m truly thankful for the availability of your resources to help me through it. They sharpen me and provide a lot of clarity to my path. Thank you.

  5. Karin says

    Thank you so much I was not getting boundaries before BECAUSE my computer crashed, then new one had to be stripped and new program reinstalled, but I see now if I read it earlier that would not have been when I needed it. Thank you LORD JESUS for giving people wisdom to pass on to use.

  6. Caroline says

    My husband and I both come from families that struggle with this exact issue. This problem is bad enough on my husband’s side of the family that it has strained relationships and broken trust. No one really feels safe to be themselves around each other, and it’s exhausting when we have family get-togethers. I’ve been convicted lately of the part I’ve played and the bitterness I’ve stored up in my heart towards some of them – and I’ve been pondering how we can handle this better as Christians, because we are called to live in harmony. Thank you for the blueprints in this blog post and for challenging us with the truth that change ultimately starts with ourselves instead of waiting for others to change. I can’t change family, but I can ask God to transform my heart into His likeness and change the way I see them, treat them, and more bravely communicate with them. Not always easy, but possible if I open my heart to it.

  7. Sunshine says

    I feel like I’m still hurting from soo many things that’s it hard to be honest with people about stuff because people can’t take what I really want to say and how I want to say it. There’s also been people in the church who confronted me in such a stabbing in my heart kind of way that I just try not to deal with anyone because friendships and relationships are too much work and responsibility for me. I don’t always feel like I am really allowed to be my true self especially because I’m already knowing a lot of people do not agree with me.

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