Tips for learning how to stop avoiding conflict.
Darn few people enjoy conflict.
Well, if the internet has taught us anything, there’s always someone somewhere that lives counter to what we think. But most of us are hard-wired to avoid conflict.
This was a good thing for most of humankind’s development. The dangers we faced were real and tangible in ways they aren’t today. A twig snapping in the forest was likely a bear or wolf ready to make a meal of a clueless person. For thousands of years, our very survival depended on our ability to spot danger and run in the other direction. Those of us who reacted slowest usually didn’t make it to the next day.
Over time we developed an internal guidance system primed to spot trouble. For the most part, this system does an excellent job of warning us of incoming danger. Even to this day, our early survival instincts kick on during new or risky situations. Step into an unknown building late at night, and suddenly we transform into hyper-aware beings keyed into every slight sound.
Unfortunately, many things that worked well for us in the wild don’t translate well to modern times. Today, if you hear a twig snap in the forest, it’s more likely to be a passing hiker than a giant grizzly bear. And while failing to avoid conflict in the past could cost us our lives, avoiding conflicts today could cost us our relationships.
Why we can’t afford to avoid conflict in our relationships
While conflict avoidance is a standard or typical response, commonality does not equal effectiveness.
A study was conducted on couples that ranged from happy to near divorce. It found that couples nearing divorce or separation avoided communication more and therefore had greater psychological distance in their relationship.
Almost no relationship starts from this place of broken communication and avoidance. This breakdown builds over time…because we learn to avoid conflict. We realize that saying this thing at this time will set off our partner or cause them to shut down. While sometimes not pushing too hard too soon can be a good thing, too much avoidance is hazardous for relationships.
Over time, the issues build up if we avoid too many conflicts. If left unchecked, this backlog of undealt-with issues will eventually tear the relationship apart from the inside out.
Tips for learning how to face conflict
Take a breath. Thankfully, we all have the power to learn, grow, and advance. We aren’t stuck forever to our instincts and patterns of behavior.
We can develop new ways of relating to one another characterized by resilience, honesty, and respect.
1. Start by acknowledging that you have a comfort zone and are uncomfortable moving outside of it.
This might sound cliche, but naming something goes a long way to helping us overcome it. You can’t begin to work on an issue until you’ve acknowledged its impact on your life.
Also, often simply stating that you’re feeling uncomfortable helps those around us understand us better. We all have different conflict thresholds and what might seem like a simple interaction for one person is close to the edge for another. Letting your partner or counselor know that you are at the limit of your comfort zone helps establish your boundaries. You want to ease over your threshold, not bound across it to make lasting change. This starts with acknowledging what you’re capable of handling, and then we can learn to allow a few steps more.
2. Find the cause of why you want to avoid
There are many reasons we might avoid conflict in our relationships. Many are raised in cultures that overemphasize harmony and “keeping the peace.” Others might have severe trauma from the violent conflict they experienced in childhood. So, they seek to avoid fights assuming they will all spiral out of control in the same way. Or maybe there is health, career, or family issues factoring in?
Whatever the reasons, understanding the “why’s” goes a long way to helping you understand your own conflict avoidance. Your partner wants you to feel safe and loved in the relationship, and if they know why you avoid fights, they can take steps to lessen the things that trigger you in an argument.
3. Learn to spot when you and your partner are being vague, passive, and resistant
While we all have our own unique ways of dealing with conflict, there are universal indicators that appear in most adults. Becoming vague, passive, and resistant to what others say are signature behaviors, or “tells,” that someone is looking to avoid an intense exchange. These tells can be challenging to spot on our own, as we’ve been doing them for our entire lives.
However, with the help of a trained couples counselor, we can learn to spot these patterns in ourselves and others and use techniques to move past them. We’re not saying to yell, “you’re avoiding now,” at your partner. Understanding the signs can help us change our own approach to something more effective. For example, we can notice that our partner is retreating. We can then acknowledge that they are getting uncomfortable, give them time to process, and commit to returning to the issue after emotions have subsided.
Get started reshaping how you view conflict
Learning to handle conflict is a long-term process. We have a lifetime of experiences and teachings to unpack and generations of hard-wired survival instincts to untangle.
But it’s not always as hard as that sounds. Even increasing your ability to handle conflict a small amount pays enormous dividends in your relationship.
As you learn to face your fears, you will increase your compassion toward your partner and others in your life. You can approach all situations thoughtfully and strategically, unbound from reacting with raw instinct.
When you’re ready to start improving your ability to face and handle conflict, we have a team of counselors prepared to help you. Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns you might have, and we’ll work hard to ensure you find the right relationship counselor for your needs.
A special note on couples counseling and its role in helping you face conflict
For many, their fear of dealing with conflicts keeps them out of couples counseling. They worry that their couples counselor will thrust them repeatedly into conflict zones and difficult conversations.
While you will be stretched at times, a trained and professional couples therapist will know how and when to push you. Their goal is to help you grow and build your relationship, not break you.
You will also spend time in sessions connecting with your partner and rediscovering your common ground. Like with developing any muscles, there’s give and take. There are days of working muscles and days of letting them rest. Sometimes, you might not even be aware that you’re breaking through more challenging issues because you’re enjoying reconnecting.
Learning to face conflicts is simply one aspect of couples counseling.