Some people hate anything that feels like conflict. They will do almost anything to avoid an argument: not paying attention in hope the problem will go away, verbally agreeing to things they have no intention of doing, staying in a relationship long after its dead and gone. When it comes to disagreements, they give in even when it means not being true to themselves.
Some people are consistent in avoiding conflict, but it’s not unusual for someone to be able to assert themselves competently in one part of their lives – say, at work – while they follow a very different track in intimate relationships. These folks may look like peacemakers, but they are motivated less by gentleness than they are by fear. Conflict scares them. In the face of problems they freeze up inside and become passive. Sometimes they put off making a decision if they think it will lead to tension. As with other unproductive patterns, all this can take a toll on self-esteem.
Where does this come from? As children, these folks may have experienced awful arguments between Mom and Dad. They may have seen things escalate out of control and end up in abuse or abandonment. If you believe that arguing is going to lead to your partner leaving, it makes sense that fights are something to avoid at all costs; the stakes are way too high.
Avoiding conflict is one way to strangle a relationship. While few people enjoy arguments, healthy couples learn each partner must assert themselves – even if it leads to disagreement. Conflict in healthy couples is dealt with openly and effectively so problems can be resolved and the relationship can move forward. Avoiding conflict leads to emotionally shallow, lifeless relationships.
What can you do if you are a conflict-avoider?
First, notice if you try to distract yourself from your problems with food, alcohol, sex, etc. If you’re having trouble facing a crisis, try cutting back instead of indulging even if it increases your discomfort. Numbing yourself out won’t help.
Pay attention to your feelings, especially anger. (A hint: if you’re feeling judgmental, you may actually be feeling angry.) Sometimes it takes time to sort out what’s going on inside. Take your time and learn to become more familiar with your inner life.
Learn to deal with problems when they arise. This is one of the key strategies for healthy conflict in a relationship. After you’ve figured out what you’re feeling and taken a moment to determine what you want, it’s time to speak up. Share what’s going on inside you.
Make decisions cooperatively, but stand up for yourself. Being a doormat is not a successful life strategy. Express your opinion when asked. Learn to assert yourself and to ask for what you want. Allow yourself to be imperfect; the idea isn’t to win every argument, it so get more of what you want in life.
Avoid passive-aggressive behavior, those subtle ways in which we try to even the score. That’s a problem mostly when we feel victimized or mistreated. Passive-aggressive behavior is manipulative and undermines relationships and our own self-esteem. Stop moping or complaining. Take responsibility for your life. Better to take a small step toward changing a situation than to passively hope for the best.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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