This post was updated on Apr 22, 2023
Are you afraid that confronting your partner would harm your relationship? You’re not alone.
Conflict avoidance is one of the most common intimacy problems a couple is likely to face in a relationship. This is because withdrawing and distancing yourself from conflict to protect your relationship can often make sense. Why subject yourself to distress? Why upset your partner and rock the boat when you can continue your day without unnecessary fights?
Does conflict avoidance actually protect your relationship? Well, the short and the long answer is no. On the contrary, conflict avoidance patterns can erode your relationship’s foundation. They can erode trust, make your partner feel unsafe, and cause you to harbor resentment in a way that may make you feel unheard in the long run. Avoiding conflicts can mean starting a war inside yourself, with no one else to fight but you.
If you’ve noticed a pattern of conflict avoidance in yourself or your partner, this article may give you the answers and guidance you seek. You’ll find out why you have a tendency to shy away from confrontation, how this can impact your relationship, and what you can do to break the pattern.
What Is Conflict Avoidance Behavior?
In a way, conflict avoidance can be seen as a kind of people-pleasing behavior. It often has roots in a deep fear of upsetting other people and witnessing their negative reactions. This fear may happen if a child grows up in a family environment that is hypercritical, dismissive, or abusive. Such a child might grow up to expect negative outcomes from conflict. This can cause them to withdraw from confrontation in their adult lives for fear of the same dismissive or critical reactions they were exposed to in their family environment.
If this sounds like you, then you may find speaking your mind and asserting yourself to be unnerving, scary, or extremely stressful. You may change the subject every time your partner brings up a contentious topic. You might endure highly uncomfortable situations because you don’t want to speak up and rock the boat. Maintaining the status quo is what you know, it’s where you feel safe.
Some other examples of conflict avoidance may include:
- Denying the existence of an issue, stonewalling
- Extreme fear of disappointing other people
- Sidestepping uncomfortable conversations
- Harboring resentment over unresolved problems
Why Do I Struggle With Confrontation?
How parents and caregivers react when a child expresses their thoughts and feelings can have a great impact on the child’s wellbeing. If a child is controlled, engulfed, or dismissed in their family environment, they may develop conflict avoidant and secretive behaviors and thoughts in order to maintain a sense of safety and security.
This is part of avoidant relationship attachment. If you have a tendency to attach in your relationships by avoiding confrontation and connection, or are prone to secrets, you may have some avoidant tendencies you learned in childhood.
Your wounded inner child or teenager who remembers the past painful outcomes of confrontation all too vividly may cause you to resort to your learned survival patterns whenever you experience conflict in adulthood. It is a way to maintain a sense of safety. To avoid hurting yourself.
The exact nature of these patterns will depend on your unique circumstances. Withdrawing and shying away from confrontation is a common one. Some people may also vehemently protest whenever things don’t go their way or resort to blaming other people to avoid responsibility for their actions.
How Does Avoiding Conflict Affect Relationships?
If you learned to be conflict avoidant as a child, you may find yourself losing your own voice quickly in your relationships. You may keep quiet, however hurt you may be. Or you may convince yourself that you’re not hurt at all.
When you keep hiding your feelings and sweeping problems under the rug, you won’t actually make them go away. Not really. They may actually come back stronger, when you least want them to. You may also subconsciously direct the negative and painful feelings to your partner, blaming them for your inability to speak up and nurture intimacy. Or you may direct them inwardly and begin to hate yourself for your perceived weaknesses.
Ultimately, avoiding conflict can hinder healthy relationship growth. It can prevent you from finding satisfaction in your relationship and developing intimacy. A conflict avoidant relationship is not a fertile environment for trust to grow.
How Do I Stop Being Scared Of Conflict?
If you feel like your fear of conflict is holding you back from nurturing healthy relationships, don’t despair. There are some steps you can take to heal your childhood wounds and overcome your fearful-avoidant tendencies.
- Evaluate your survival patterns. What experiences from your past may have led to your conflict avoidance? What are you trying to escape when you shy away from confrontation? Becoming aware of your core survival patterns is the first step towards changing them.
- Think about the effects of hiding emotions. Try and identify the negative ways that avoiding confrontation can affect your relationship. This can motivate you to speak up and work on developing healthier conflict behaviors.
- Think about how healthy conflict can benefit you. Discussing your thoughts and feelings openly with your partner can actually create a stronger bond between you two. You may also find it easier to stand up for yourself in other situations, whether social or professional.
- Reconsider any assumptions you may have about conflict. Fear of conflict can be incredibly deeply rooted, so this step can be hard. Try to remind yourself that confrontation won’t necessarily result in pain and distress. And the more you practice healthy conflict, the less afraid you’re likely to be next time.
- Take one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and overcoming your learned survival patterns is unlikely to be a quick process, either. Take it slow and work on one problem at a time.
- Practice staying calm. Honest and fair communication relies on patience, calmness, and “I” statements. Instead of casting blame, try to keep your cool and give your perspective calmly. The idea is to become more assertive, not aggressive.
Learn Healthy Conflict Through Relationship Intimacy Coaching
Individuals with secure attachment are able to experience conflict, sit with their feelings, and express them in a calm, healthy way. If your childhood circumstances have led to avoidant or anxious behavior in your adulthood, you may find it extremely painful to take the first step and re-learn healthy patterns.
At PIVOT, we are committed to helping individuals who feel betrayed, hurt, unheard, or wounded. Our relationship retreats can help you find your strength, build secure attachment, speak your truth, and take healthy action. Explore our compassion-based coaching modules now and start healing.