Avoiding conflict… we have all been there. Who doesn’t want to avoid the discomfort of anger, being hurt, feeling misunderstood, exposing one’s vulnerability?
But when we avoid conflict as an ongoing pattern in our marriage, it creates BIG problems for the long-term.
Avoiding conflict often reflects a deeper avoidance of voicing your authentic self for fear of rejection or judgment.
Today’s post is #3 in my series on how to heal from abandoning yourself in your marriage and reclaim your life.
Today’s message is all about how to stop avoiding conflict and in turn, stop avoiding voicing your true self.
When we habitually avoid conflict in our marriage, we are also hiding our important feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Hiding leads to disconnection. Disconnection leads to abandoning ourselves which leads to feelings of grief and loneliness.
The stagnant energy of avoiding conflict, over time, creates layers of distress that not only lead us to disconnect from ourselves but also create obstacles to true intimacy.
Think of avoiding conflict as a protective strategy. The avoidance protects you from experiencing difficult emotions like anger, fear, resentment, sadness, loneliness, grief, anxiety, etc.
It also protects you from the fear felt when taking the risk of using your voice, expressing your authentic self, and all the vulnerability that comes with this.
Except it only does this for a short period of time. In the moment we may feel some relief in avoiding conflict because we don’t have to have that difficult conversation that will lead to distress. We don’t have to feel the fear that comes with vulnerability.
But after this moment passes, all of the energy of the things avoided and left unresolved continues to gain momentum. And energy from unresolved issues in intimate relationships can be very destructive.
Avoiding conflict is a learned behavior. When conflict has been ineffective and highly distressing, it reinforces the idea that not having it and avoiding it all together, is better. If we only experience the kind of conflict that leads to escalating arguments and results in more pain, we learn to avoid.
But conflict does not have to be this way. It is possible to experience a different and effective kind of conflict; the kind in which both partners manage their emotions well and listen to each other even when distressed.
Learning how to do this requires a willingness to be vulnerable by using your own voice and not abandoning yourself.
Learning how to have conflict in effective ways means that no matter how angry, hurt, or upset you may be there are certain things you and your partner agree not to do such as:
We agree not to yell, insult, and verbally attack each other.
We agree not to be physically aggressive.
We agree not to pursue the other when they have respectfully and intentionally asked for time to calm down.
We agree not to emotionally shut down indefinitely.
We agree not to abandon each other by storming out of the house.
And there are certain things you and your partner agree to do such as:
We agree to state our own feelings and experiences without blame.
We agree to take responsibility for our part in the conflict.
We agree to be compassionate toward ourselves and our partner remembering both of us are distressed.
We agree to remember each other’s triggers and intentionally choose not to instigate them.
We agree to take time to calm down with intention and commit to a time to come back to revisit the issue.
The goal is to create a structure with your partner that supports conflict being expressed effectively.
Imagine after having a conflict both of you having a better understanding of yourself and each other. Imagine both of you learning valuable things about yourselves, about what kind of partners you aspire to be, and how to address challenges in the future more effectively.
When this happens, we know we have addressed conflict most productively.
Finally, in my workbook, I talk about the importance of approaching your avoidance of conflict most compassionately. As I said earlier, we do this as a protective strategy. And our brains are wired to protect us.
So take a deep breath and breathe in some compassion for yourself. Be patient and take each day as an opportunity to take another step in voicing your authentic self even when if feels scary.
Even with the best intentions, sometimes emotions become overwhelming; sometimes we handle conflict badly. When this happens, be accountable for your mistakes. Forgive yourself and re-commit to practicing healthy, effective strategies in addressing conflict.
Make a commitment to yourself to no longer hide or abandon yourself. Commit to risking and being vulnerable.
And remind yourself that in doing so, you are not only strengthening and reclaiming your life, you are strengthening your intimate connection with your partner.
Peace in the journey,