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Why Avoiding Conflict Can Cause Problems

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
March 17, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Some couples seem to have smooth sailing in their relationship – they get along well and don’t seem to argue. But, the reality is, there are differences of opinion and disagreements in all relationships. Some couples deal calmly and directly with differences; others keep the peace by avoiding conflict. Both styles can work well, but avoiding conflict has its risks.

Couples that avoid conflict do often flourish. They choose to focus on what they have in common and don’t pay much attention to problems that might be between them. They don’t address their differences very much, and simply agree to disagree when those differences arise. Of course, they can’t totally avoid conflict, but overall, their relationship is positive and happy.

However, conflict avoidance has its limits. Sometimes a difference arises that is too big to ignore. Differences in values or religion can become big problems. Not feeling understood can also put a wedge between couples, especially during upsetting times, such as after losing a job or struggling with family drama. When these types of issues come up, conflict avoidant couples don’t have a way of working through the issues together.

If these couples want their relationship to survive, they need to learn a different, more effective way of coping with the differences that cannot be ignored. Rather than avoiding conflicts, they need to work together – collaboratively – to air their differences in a calm, respectful way. By focusing on understanding each other, they can feel close and cared about even as they disagree. Some specific ways you can work collaboratively are:

Remember the love: As you and your partner discuss points of disagreement, keep in mind how much you care about the other person. It will help keep the conversation positive and will help you to be loving and compassionate.

Begin from points of agreement: It often helps when you share points of agreement to solidify a positive connection before expressing differences.

Discuss hurt and angry feelings: When negative feelings toward each other go unspoken, they are often acted out through behaviors, such as storming out of the house. Or they are expressed through indirect verbal attacks, such as “joking” with the other person about their failings. However, when you directly share your reactions with a focus on what you are feeling rather than on the other person’s offensive actions, then those feelings can be addressed in a more caring and effective way.

Really, truly listen: Rather than pouring your energy into proving your point, you have a much better chance of resolving issues by fully appreciating your partner’s perspective and expressing that appreciation. Then that person will feel understood and be more open to hearing your side of the issue. This paves the way for a more collaborative solution.

Apologize when appropriate: All emotionally close relationships carry the risk of partners hurting each other. When you offer a sincere apology, you and your partner can start healing and moving forward.

When all is going well in your relationship, it’s okay to avoid or minimize small problems. But also take the time to learn the validating and collaborative approach. You’ll need to have these skills when conflicts arise that are too big to ignore.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.
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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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