Conflict avoidance is a common and destructive pattern in relationships. Don’t get me wrong, not wanting to fight is not a bad thing. But the way many people go about it can lead to bigger problems and, yes, more fights, in the long run.
There are a few different ways to be conflict avoidant. Some people readily say “yes” to whatever their partner says but have no plans to follow through with action. Others deny a problem, such as marital strife, a drinking problem, or serious concerns about a child, rather than face hard truths. One common tactic is to throw oneself into work or kids to avoid having time and energy to fight in a relationship. Perhaps you can see how each of these strategies feels easier in the moment but inevitably causes more problems in the future.
So what am I suggesting? Certainly not a screaming match every night! Healthy conflict can move you forward as a couple, leave you feeling heard, and help avoid future arguments. Here are some ways to change your relationship with conflict:
Avoid black-or-white thinking about conflict. “I hold it all in so I don’t yell.” Does this sound like you? Many people assume the options are hostile conflict or conflict avoidance, but in fact those two usually work in a vicious cycle. The balanced option is respectfully and clearly stating your wants, needs, and hurts, and allowing your partner space to do the same. It’s not all or nothing with conflict.
Consider what you learned about conflict resolution growing up. Perhaps you grew up seeing avoidance so it is all you know. Or your parents had volatile conflict and you think the only way to avoid that is to hold it all in. Whether repeating patterns from our parents or working hard to avoid them, we are all influenced by our childhoods on this issue. Discuss what you learn with your partner.
Define healthy vs. unhealthy conflict, and decide whether you lump healthy discussions and disagreements into the “conflict” bucket. People who want to avoid conflict often have an alarm in their heads that goes off at any sign of potential conflict. That means they may get defensive or shut down before a healthy, productive discussion could occur. Rethink what kinds of conflict you really want to avoid and what kinds you should open up to.
Ask your partner to help you change. We can make these changes alone, but it’s a lot easier with your partner on board. If your partner is also conflict avoidant, a big first step is having a conversation about this dynamic and talking about how to move past it. If your partner is not conflict avoidant, tell him/her in a calm conversation that you are trying to stop avoiding conflict, but need their help. Help them understand how you feel when you see conflict on the horizon and ask for a different approach. Perhaps you need a weekly couple meeting so it isn’t sprung on you at bad times, or you both need to work on your soft startup. Whatever it is, your partner won’t know unless you tell them.