Avoiding Relationship Conflict Isn’t As Safe As You Think
If you’re making efforts at avoiding relationship conflict, you certainly are among many couples who also refrain from making their needs known.
Often we’re afraid to speak up to our partner for any number of reasons, such as:
- “It’s a small thing, and maybe it’ll get better on its own.”
- “I’ve mentioned it before; I don’t want to be nagging.”
- “If I bring up the issue, I’m so afraid it will spark an argument.”
- “I really don’t want to bother my partner with my own needs.”
Yet, as you’ll learn here, avoiding relationship conflict has a serious downside. I’ll help you understand how speaking up actually improves closeness and emotional connection. And, I’ll give you some insight into why you may hold back and be reluctant to express yourself.
The Price of Avoiding Relationship Conflict
It’s impossible to not occasionally feel hurt or disappointed by our partner or spouse. He or she can forget something important to us or unintentionally hurt our feelings.
Here’s the dilemma, however: When we are upset, it actually takes a lot of energy to hold in our hurt feelings. We may ruminate, keeping the negative thoughts rolling around in our heads. We may — even worse — look for other faults or neglect on the part of our partner.
Slowly, we can be building the seeds of resentment — often feeling far worse and perhaps building up anger and disappointment as time goes on.
We may work at avoiding relationship conflict for a variety of reasons, some of which we may not be fully aware. For example:
- If you grew up in a household with a lot of anger and arguments, you may be more cautious about approaching your partner and speaking up, fearing an argument could occur between you.
- On the other hand, if important issues were never talked about in your family when you were growing up, you may lack a of model for addressing concerns.
- Sometimes, our parents may not have been good at responding to our own needs or requests. We never felt heard or truly understood or our parents did not know how to connect with us. Speaking up to our partner now as an adult can feel downright foreign — and scary.
Couples Have Cycles of Dealing with Relationship Conflict
What we know from research about couples is that we unconsciously form ways of coping with problems with our partner. We call these “negative cycles.” These cycles are challenging styles of communication that couples struggle to break. These cycles may be patterns of endless arguing and/or silence and avoidance. Issues never get resolved when couples land in these cycles.
These negative cycles, over time, create distance and disconnection, reduced emotional closeness and often lead to reduced physical closeness and intimacy.
The most common cycle is Pursue and Withdraw. One partner wants to talk, wants answers, and literally pursues their partner to get them to engage in the discussion (which may have by now evolved into an argument). The other partner, not knowing what to do with the partner’s pursuing and possibly angry approach, withdraws, goes silent, maybe leaves the room.
The withdrawal then causes the pursuing partner to become more angry (and hurt that their partner won’t respond to them). Then, the withdrawing partner withdraws further. And the cycle continues until the couple tires or realizes they’re headed nowhere.
Other cycles include when both partners are so angry they are verbally challenging each other, sparking continued arguing and sometimes bringing up past issues that were never resolved.
The third type of cycle is when both partners withdraw and move away from the conversation. But, the hurt feelings continue to erode connection.
No matter the type of negative cycles, issues are rarely fully resolved.
More Insight Is Helpful
So, now let’s look deeper beneath the negative cycles to one of the root causes of couples who struggle with avoiding relationship conflict.
Each person’s position in the negative cycle often reflects his or her attachment style. Attachment is how we relate to those closest to us, and is typically formed as a child. However, attachment styles can change depending on significant life events.
A person with a secure attachment style feels safe in their primary relationship with their partner and generally feels capable of receiving and giving love and maintaining a close connection.
On the other hand, a person with an anxious attachment style may worry about the security of the relationship, can struggle with any signs of rejection and may need a great deal of reassurance that they matter to their partner.
The third style is avoidant. People with this attachment style can be uncomfortable being too close to others, may struggle to depend on and share emotions with the partner and can try to be self-reliant, denying his or her need for closeness.
And, we can have a mixed style, most often a combination of traits of the anxious and avoidant types.
In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, you’ll learn how attachment styles can contribute to avoiding relationship conflict. The anxious person may likely pursue; the avoidant one may withdraw.
Tying the Pieces Together
So, now we’ve learned about the underlying forces that can contribute to a partner’s fear of speaking up about their needs.
It’s important, as well, to realize the hazards. When we don’t speak up to express to our partner our needs and wants and/or to let our partner know we’re feeling hurt, we jeopardize closeness, connection and trust.
I fully recognize that speaking up in our primary relationship is a far greater challenge for some people more than others.
However, the rewards are great when we do let our partner in to our inner thoughts and concerns. We gradually break down walls that may have grown between us, reach new depth of understanding and nurture and strengthen our loving bond with each other.
You’ll find more in-depth information on the essentials of communicating with your partner in these two additional articles:
To learn more about reducing anger when working to resolve issues, click (here).
To learn about tips to getting your point across effectively with your partner, click (here).