The Toxic Ways Conflict Avoidance Poisons Relationships

Dawn Bevier

Our attempts to keep the peace actually hinder us from the happy relationships we seek to create

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My husband and I don’t quarrel very often, but just recently, we had to have a much-needed conversation. About food. Probably seems silly to you, right?

But it wasn’t.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to keep off pounds I lost through a very carefully planned diet. But this pandemic has made my efforts to maintain my weight considerably harder. And it doesn’t help that my husband is a culinary genius who watches the Food Network and devises extremely wonderful (and highly caloric) meals for my family to enjoy. Meals to which I must sadly say “no.”

And seeing the depression I have been struggling with during this quarantine, he often makes comments intended to coax me into indulging in his home-cooked delicacies. His intentions are good; after all, who doesn’t get enjoyment from a well-cooked meal? And his methods are loving.

He tells me how crazy I am for continuing to diet. He tells me my body is beautiful and says there’s no harm in allowing myself the freedom to take a break from my dietary restrictions. Many times he will also urge me (with a pleading and slightly hurt look on his face) to just take one bite of his appetizing creations. And I do. Because I know he takes pride in his ability to make magic from food and I want to make him happy. And because my will power at this point in time is extremely low.

But the truth is, although his efforts were kind, they were also derailing my progress. And I had to let him know that his well-intended nudges needed to stop. I told him he needed to be my support system and not make me feel guilty for doing what I felt I needed to do to accomplish my goals.

He responded with his usual tenderness, immediately restraining himself from employing the tactics I begged him to stop.

But this confrontation was extremely difficult for me, even though I have a kind and considerate partner. As a matter of fact, I rarely speak thoughts that may incite conflict. Even if the confrontation may result in positive change.

Why?

Because I have a conflict-avoidant nature. Because I don’t want to disturb the peace. Because as an introvert and a highly sensitive individual, it is often easier to hold my tongue than to hold my ground. Better to walk away than to walk into a battlefield that might bring me more pain than the negative emotions I internalize.

And if you consider yourself a non-confrontational person as well, you may often feel the same, believing it more advantageous to run towards the safety of silence than to respectfully address your feelings to persons whose behaviors continue to hurt you.

But the truth is that many times when we hold back our thoughts and emotions from our loved ones, the results are counterproductive, bringing less tranquility and more inner turmoil. Causing weaker relationships rather than stronger ones. Provoking a more self-destructive abuse than any that could be inflicted by another person.

So, perhaps we who hold our tongues for the sake of peace need to ponder what we lose when we let our voices refuse to be heard.

We lose perspective and allow destructive emotions and behaviors to take over

When we don’t state to loved ones that they repeatedly commit actions towards us that we find harmful or offensive, the result is a sense of frustration and resentment. Consequently, we begin to subconsciously create a toxic tally of “penalty points” ascribed to them, causing increased feelings of animosity that fester and poison our relationships over time.

And the longer that we choose to avoid openly discussing the problems in a relationship, the more these emotions grow, putting in motion a contorted view of the relationships’ main troubles and a negative cycle of thoughts and actions that even logic and rationality cannot overcome.

We lose the ability to honestly evaluate our partnerships

When we spend so much time reflecting on the unfavorable actions of our friends or lovers, our objectivity becomes skewed. For instance, we may lose awareness of their positive attributes or redeeming qualities because we have harbored a scoreboard of their flaws for so long.

And even if we eventually air our grievances and our friends or lovers attempt to enact positive changes, they can never effectively reverse the score in their favor because we have already unalterably condemned them for their past actions.

We lose insights into how our own behaviors are negatively affecting relationships

If we are constantly inwardly berating or criticizing our partners without speaking out, this often creates negative changes in our own behavior. For example, we may unknowingly react in passive-aggressive ways that create even more tension. And whether we want to admit it or not, this makes us almost as guilty as our partner for the relationship’s deterioration.

In addition, when our unspoken internalized anger towards our partners becomes our sole focus, it makes us lose sight of the fact that as offensive as our partners’ actions may be, our inability to confront the issue serves to reinforce the other party’s offending behavior. For instance, our silence in the face of problematic issues in a relationship creates a white lie of sorts, one that makes our partners think their behaviors are acceptable. And this is yet another way that our silence makes us an accomplice to the corrosion of the relationships we value most.

We lose the chance at truly fulfilling relationships either with our partners or with someone else

In addition to simply being conflict-avoidant, sometimes there are other good reasons you feel you are constantly walking on eggshells with a certain friend or that you need to tiptoe around problems with a lover or spouse instead of speaking out.

It may be that your friends or partner belittles your words. Or they may ignore you as if you never spoke at all. They may even lash out when you do initiate conversation, claiming that you are attacking them even if your words are spoken with sensitivity.

These reactions cause conflict-avoidant persons to attach a toxic fear to the thought of open communication with loved ones.

But no one should feel afraid to express themselves for worry of being emotionally or even physically wounded in a healthy relationship. Effective partnerships are built on mutual respect, and if someone who loves you cannot listen to you without crushing your self-esteem or hurling nasty comments, then maybe you should ask yourself if this is the type of friend or partnership you want to sustain.

After all, conflict is inevitable in a long term relationship because as time goes on, we change in many ways. As a result, feelings of happiness and fulfillment in a relationship may also change because of our altered needs, beliefs, and lifestyles.

And not only do we change, but our friends or partners change as well. Needs that were once met for either partner may now go unfulfilled. Behaviors may have changed in one partner or both partners that now wreak havoc on a relationship.

For instance, perhaps your partner no longer responds to your physical or emotional needs because he or she is obsessed with his or her job. Perhaps your friend’s behavior towards you changes negatively because of a new lover in his or her life.

And when transformations result in negative outcomes such as these, they need to be addressed. Otherwise, we make unfounded assumptions or lose the ability to see certain truths about the relationship that may be necessary to move towards happiness and fulfillment in the future.

For example, all of us at times get so caught up in our own lives that we become oblivious to how our actions are impacting others. So maybe your needs aren’t being met by your partner not because he or she doesn’t care but because he or she is too immersed in his or her own struggles to be aware of negative behaviors.

By speaking out to our loved ones, we can make certain that those closest to us are cognizant of our feelings. And this is imperative, for only through awareness can positive change occur.

Also, having a respectful conversation with your partner over the negative things impacting the relationship allows your partner to voice his or her own perspective. His or her words may make you aware of the fact that, unknowingly, your reactions and behaviors have also impacted the relationship in damaging ways.

The truth is unless partners in a relationship feel free to communicate openly and honestly with each other, they never really know whether their bond is truly strong enough to survive the hands of time.

For example, if you make your partner aware of feelings of abandonment or pain, and he or she still doesn’t take action to repair the relationship, that’s telling you something. It may be telling you something you don’t want to hear, but at least you know the truth.

And if your partner brings up unmet needs that result from your behavior and you can’t or won’t meet those needs or change those behaviors, maybe that’s telling you something as well.

Either way, not disclosing your feelings deprives both you and your loved one of two things: the chance to make positive changes in a relationship or the chance to leave the relationship to find one that truly makes you fulfilled.

The bottom line

American writer Audre Lord said, “Your silence will not protect you.” It serves only to promote resentment and misunderstandings between individuals and their loved ones. Not to mention that each time you submit to silence, you sacrifice your power to change situations for the better.

So speak out. But speak kindly and at the right time and place. Also, give a fair hearing to the words spoken back to you. Only then will you have the answers to the questions you seek. Answers that will let you know whether you can move forward in a partnership or move onwards towards a better one.

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My goal is to provide you with thoughtful, informative, and inspirational content that may increase your productivity, relationships, and well-being.

Sanford, NC
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