Conflict Avoidance in a Relationship

In their relationships, many people think they’re avoiding trouble by not fighting. They look at the absence of fighting as indication that the relationship is healthy.

This is a dangerous way to approach things. The absence of fighting does not prove the presence of relationship harmony.

A happy relationship consists of two people who are getting what they want — simply by the other person being who he or she is. Conflicts are viewed as temporary and resolvable. It’s not expected that there will be dealbreakers, because each member of the relationship assumes (from overwhelming evidence) that each is getting and should be getting what’s satisfactory to him (or her).

A healthy relationship, by this definition, does not refer to the absence of conflict. It refers to the expectation of conflict as the exception and not the norm; and conflict as resolvable, since each loves the other person and wants to see both oneself and the other person as happy as possible.

Avoiding conflict on principle can lead to a false and inauthentic relationship. False assumptions will build up on one or both sides. When one of those false assumptions is contradicted or betrayed, resentment develops and builds.

The whole problem could have been prevented by allowing some conflict into the mix earlier on, rather than being so conflict-avoidant that a larger conflict was later unavoidable.

In a personal or romantic relationship, most issues (even minor ones) boil down to hurt feelings. In many cases, hurt feelings are caused by a lack of visibility in some instance. In other words, if you feel your spouse/partner was not listening to you, or paying attention to what’s most important to you, then there’s some resentment.

Most of these problems can be resolved early on by simply expressing your hurt feelings to your loved one. Not in a hostile or offensive way, but simply as a matter of fact or as an expression of emotional hurt. When expressing those feelings, it’s best to do so in a benevolent way. By “benevolent” I mean to come across with an assumption, on your own part, that you realize no harm was intended — but hurt feelings did end up being the result. It’s less in the spirit of accusation and more in the context of, “Just letting you know.”

Healthy and mature individuals love their partners and do not want to hurt them. They want their partners to feel visible, and they want them to know how important they are to them. Bringing up hurt feelings or other misunderstandings should not be something to avoid. It should be something that’s assumed resolvable and fixable, with as little as a few minutes of communication in some cases.

When you’re hurt or upset about something, it’s wise to view it in a wider context. For example, ask yourself, “What am I really upset about here? Is it really this thing I’m focusing on, or is it something else? Is it just one instance of my feelings being hurt, or is it part of what I see as a wider pattern?” The more clear you are about these own things, in your own mind, before communicating something to a loved one, the better able you’ll be to explain yourself if asked to do so.

Should every single hurt feeling be brought up? No. It’s not necessary. But if it’s something you view as a large incident, or a pattern of incidents that aren’t going away, then it’s better to bring it up than let it boil beneath the surface.

“Not fighting” is not something to strive for, not if by “not fighting” you mean avoiding conflict at any price. It’s arguably better to embrace the conflict, but in a rational and benevolent way, than to pretend the conflict doesn’t exist and have it come back later to bite both yourself and your partner.


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