Conflict avoidance is a common concern brought up during couple’s counseling. Avoiding conflict may be easier, but it often isn’t better.
In a committed romantic relationship, there are often challenges and conflicts you and your partner will face. The challenges occur because a relationship consists of two individuals, each with their own goals, motives, and desires that don’t always align with one another.
There are many possible sources of conflict in a relationship. The causes of disagreement may center around:
- intimacy issues
- financial matters
- outside relationships with family and friends
- unhealthy habits
Disagreements can cause significant stress, so it tends to be best to find ways to communicate with one another about the issue instead of letting a problem fester.
How you manage conflict in a relationship can impact family dynamics, happiness levels, and even your physical and mental well-being.
Conflict avoidance, also known as complaint avoidance, is when a person avoids discussing issues with their partner to avoid confrontation or an argument. People may do this as a way to preserve harmony in the relationship.
For example, one person in the relationship may become jealous when another starts spending a lot of their time going out with co-workers instead of coming home after work.
But the person may then think about how well they’ve been getting along and not want to disrupt that by getting into an argument. As a result, they brush it under the rug.
The issue with brushing an issue under the rug is that the problem this couple is facing will likely not go away until it is addressed. And until it is addressed, resentment can build.
Conflict avoidance, therefore, often leads to a larger confrontation down the road.
When you are in a romantic relationship, you likely want to feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly with your partner. When this open dialogue doesn’t occur, relationship satisfaction tends to decrease.
A 2021 study, for instance, analyzed same-sex relationships and how they managed conflict during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that people were more conflict avoidant during the pandemic, which led to lower levels of satisfaction in the relationship.
Although the adverse impact of conflict avoidance can be seen across all genders in relationships, its effects can be particularly upsetting for women.
A 2011 research study found that high conflict avoidance in a relationship will likely cause relationship dissatisfaction for women, but not necessarily for men.
How confrontation can help a relationship
Research suggests that when confrontation does occur, couples tend to benefit greatly. But the type of confrontation that’s required to help improve a relationship varies depending on the situation.
For more minor problems or instances when both couples aren’t able to change, confrontation involving affection and validation showed to be most effective for resolving conflict.
There are many reasons you may be engaging in conflict avoidant behavior in your relationship. Discovering the source of your fears surrounding confrontation can be a good place to begin overcoming the issue.
Common reasons you may be avoiding conflict in your relationship include:
- fear of the relationship ending
- reluctance for picking a fight
- anxiety around expressing emotions and feelings
- fear of getting into a screaming match or being yelled at
- fear of being dismissed
- fear of experiencing gaslighting
- concern for all unresolved problems coming to the surface
- fear of having your partner be mad at you
- fear of discovering the problem is unsolvable
- fear of being misunderstood
- fear of being rejected
- fear of nothing changing
Sometimes, a little self-reflection can provide significant insight into the core issues in your relationship and even into some of your most fundamental fears in life.
Developing a better understanding of why you are hesitant to bring up an issue within your relationship may help you better express yourself to your partner, leading to more impactful conversations.
It is not uncommon for couples to experience communication issues in some capacity in a relationship. Like most things in life, healthy communication is a skill set that takes time to develop.
As long as you and your partner are committed to bettering the relationship and communicating with one another with respect, there is nearly always a path forward.
Also, the ideal timing and the best language choice for addressing an issue varies from couple to couple and from issue to issue. Nevertheless, there are some best practices to keep in mind when communicating with your partner.
When confronting an issue with a partner, it tends to help to avoid:
- demanding change
- refusing to negotiate
- assuming you know what your partner is thinking
Instead, try to focus on:
- articulating your needs
- providing actionable solutions
- remaining open to compromise
- identifying the root of the problem and how it has affected you
What this can look like
Say the issue you want to address with your partner is that you fear they would rather spend time with their co-workers than with you.
Instead of yelling at your partner that they don’t love you any more or that they are a bad person for not spending more time with you, focus on how you are feeling.
You could express that you miss your partner and that it would mean a lot to you to begin spending more time together.
Perhaps you could suggest marking off a day each week where the two of you engage in quality time together. You could even ask if your partner would consider inviting you to the events they are going to.
Or maybe you begin by expressing why you haven’t mentioned your sadness over spending less time together. You could say you fear coming off as needy or high-maintenance (or whatever your fear might be), but that you still hope the two of you can work together to ensure both people are having their needs met in the relationship.
The point is you focus on potential solutions and your own personal experience instead of attacking your partner or making assumptions about them before they have been allowed to express their side of the story.
These small differences in communication can make all the difference in developing a healthy and sustainable relationship.
Confronting an issue in a relationship can feel scary. Perhaps you have fears over how your partner will react if you bring up an issue, or maybe you have anxiety over feeling vulnerable in front of someone else.
Regardless of the reason, it can help to identify the root of your fears first so you can have more honest conversations with your partner.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, seeing a mental health counselor or a couples counselor for support may be best. It’s never too late in life to learn how to develop healthier communication skills and address conflict.