Conflict Avoidance in Relationships: What is it and why does it happen?

Conflict Avoidance

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We’ve all been there—that moment when we feel a conflict arising and our stomach starts to churn.

We may begin to feel anxious, defensive, or even angry. We might do anything to avoid that conflict. Conflict avoidance is very common in relationships.

This blog post will explore what conflict avoidance is, why people do it, and the consequences of doing so. We will also offer tips for dealing with conflict in a healthy way.

What is conflict avoidance, and why does it happen in relationships?

Conflict avoidance is the act of withdrawing from conflict or avoiding conflict altogether. People often do this because they are afraid of getting hurt, being rejected, or feeling uncomfortable. They may also do it to avoid a power struggle.

How can conflict avoidance manifest in a relationship?
Conflict avoidance can manifest in different ways. For example, some people might withdraw entirely from the conflict and refuse to discuss it. Others might try to change the topic or make peace without addressing the issue. They may also act passive-aggressive or resort to name-calling or insults.

Why do people avoid conflict?
People avoid conflict for many reasons. Some people are afraid of getting hurt or rejected. Others may be afraid of the conflict itself. They may see conflict as a negative experience and believe it will only lead to pain and drama.

How does conflict avoidance affect relationships?
Conflict avoidance can have several negative consequences in relationships. First, it can lead to resentment, frustration, and contempt. It can also cause communication to break down and lead to distance in the relationship.

Approach-avoidance conflict vs. fear of negative evaluation theories

There are two main theories behind conflict avoidance: approach-avoidance conflict and fear of negative evaluation.

Approach-avoidance conflict is when a person wants to avoid a conflict, but at the same time, they want to approach it. This type of conflict can often happen because people are afraid of both outcomes of the conflict: the pain of losing and the pain of winning. 

Example of approach-avoidance conflict:

Jim and his wife are arguing about who will take the dog for a walk. Jim really doesn’t want to take the dog for a walk, but he doesn’t want his wife to be mad at him either. So he keeps trying to find a way to avoid taking the dog for a walk that won’t make his wife angry.

Fear of negative evaluation is when a person avoids conflict because they are afraid of being seen in a negative light. They may believe that they will be judged, criticized, or rejected if they engage in conflict.

Example of fear of negative evaluation:

Caroline is very conflict avoidant and always tries to avoid conflict with her husband. She does this because she is afraid of being seen in a negative light. She worries that her husband will judge her, criticize her, or reject her if she engages in conflict.

How do these theories relate to conflict avoidance?
Approach-avoidance conflict theory states that people often avoid conflict because they are afraid of both outcomes of the conflict: the pain of losing and the pain of winning. This type of theory is based on the idea that people fear negative evaluation.

Fear of negative evaluation theory states that people often avoid conflict because they are afraid of being seen in a negative light. This theory is based on the idea that people fear being judged, criticized, or rejected if they engage in conflict.

approach-avoidance conflict

The consequences of conflict avoidance

The consequences of conflict avoidance can be very damaging to a relationship. When two people avoid conflict, they are not communicating their needs and desires to each other. This leads to resentment and frustration on both sides. The relationship becomes based on assumptions and expectations rather than communication. And can lead to a lot of conflict down the road.

It can also negatively affect physical intimacy in a relationship. Physical intimacy is an essential part of any relationship. When two people avoid conflict, it can often lead to a decrease in physical intimacy. This happens because when two people are not communicating, they are not connecting on a physical level either. Physical intimacy is about connection, and when there is no communication, there is no connection.

As you can see conflict avoidance negatively affects multiple areas of your relationship, but it can also affect your personal health. When people bottle up their feelings, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. Suppressed emotions can also lead to physical problems like heart disease and high blood pressure.

How can you recognize if you or your partner are dealing with conflict avoidance?

Some key signs can help you identify if you are dealing with conflict avoidance in your relationship:

  • You find yourself withdrawing from conflict when it arises
  • You have a lot of unexpressed anger or resentment
  • The relationship has developed on assumptions and expectations rather than communication
  • You often feel frustrated or resentful towards your partner
  • Your partner often withdraws from conflict or avoids conflict altogether.
  • You don’t speak up for yourself
  • You resort to trying to please the other person
  • You excessively apologize

Tips for dealing with conflict in healthy ways

If you or your partner are conflict avoiders, here are some tips for dealing with conflict in a healthy way:

  • Talk about conflict early and often. Don’t wait until things have blown up to start talking about them
  • Be willing to hear the other person out. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk
  • Stay calm, and don’t get defensive
  • Be respectful of the other person, even if you disagree with them
  • Try to find a solution that works for both of you
  • Don’t resort to name-calling or insults
  • If things get too heated, take a break and come back to the conflict later

Conflict avoidance is a prevalent issue in relationships. It can be damaging to the connection of a relationship if it is left unaddressed. By being aware of the signs of conflict avoidance and using these tips for dealing with conflict healthily, you can start to have healthier and more productive conversations with your partner.

The importance of communicating openly and honestly in your relationship

When you communicate openly and honestly with your partner, you are able to share your thoughts and feelings with them.

You begin to develop trust and intimacy in the relationship. By communicating openly, you can express your needs and desires to your partner, which can help avoid conflict in the future.

Communication is vital in any relationship. Therefore, it is essential if you are dealing with conflict avoidance. Open up communication with your partner. You will be able to resolve conflicts healthily and build a stronger relationship.

Need help with conflict avoidance in your relationship?

If you are struggling with conflict avoidance and want to learn how to communicate effectively with your partner, please seek professional help.

A therapist can help you and your partner learn healthy conflict resolution skills and help you develop a better understanding of yourself and your partner.

Schedule an appointment with a Makin Wellness counselor today if you’d like more information on conflict avoidance or other relationship issues.

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

All articles are written in conjunction with the Makin Wellness Research Team.

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