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 you feel a conflict brewing and your stomach starts to churn.

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

This blog post will explore what conflict avoidance is, why you do it, and the consequences of doing so. We will also offer tips for addressing conflict healthily.

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

How conflict avoidance manifests in your relationship

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

How can conflict avoidance impact a relationship?
Conflict avoidance can manifest in different ways. For example, you might withdraw entirely from the conflict and refuse to discuss it. You might also try to change the topic or make peace without addressing the issue. Another manifestation of conflict avoidance is when you act passive-aggressive or resort to name-calling or insults.

Why do you avoid conflict?
You may avoid conflict for many reasons. You might be:

  • afraid of getting hurt or rejected
  • afraid of the conflict itself
  • 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.

Consequences of conflict avoidance

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, and it can also affect your health. When you bottle up your feelings, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. Suppressed emotions may also lead to physical symptoms 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 struggling 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
  • Not speaking up for yourself
  • You resort to trying to please the other person
  • Apologizing just to end the conversation

Tips for addressing conflict in healthy ways

Coping with conflict avoidance in your relationship

If you or your partner are conflict avoiders, here are some tips for addressing conflict healthily:

  • 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, Makin Wellness can help.

We offer both individual and couples’ online therapy, so you can feel supported no matter how you approach your treatment.

We believe your happiness is worth it, so we make it easy to begin your journey. It’s as simple as answering a few questions about your needs, and within 24 hours you’ll be connected to a highly qualified professional. If you’re ready to get started, get in contact with us. We look forward to supporting you.

Picture of Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Rose

    Yes in need of help for my relationship

    1. Makinwellness

      Hi Rose, conflict avoidance in relationships can be a difficult thing to deal with. If it would help to talk to someone about how you feel, schedule an introductory call with one of our team members. We’re here to help.

      1. Charles Kelley

        I’m 68, my wife is 50. When we met, I was 40, she was 22. The 1st week we were together, she told me “You need to know, I don’t do confrontations”. I just didn’t get any clarity on that statement for fear of it escalating. The result almost 30 years later is total Hell and unfulfillment. 2 dysfunctional boys (1 autistic) to show for it. Im conservative, she’s liberal.

        1. Makinwellness

          I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re experiencing in your relationship. Without clear communication it is difficult to be on the same page about any topic, especially the ones that matter most. Also, if someone isn’t willing to have hard conversations, it makes any progress or deepening of the relationship near impossible. I hope that you can find fulfillment and joy somehow despite the differences between you and your significant other.

  2. Regina

    When I try to bring up an issue with my husband that indirectly involves his brother’s new girlfriend, he doesn’t want to admit that he takes her side and gets upset if I offend her. So I either have to apologize or ignore the issue. Even if I try to comment about his friends behavior at our house, he doesn’t want me to confront them. I asked him why I have to compromise my boundaries for his reluctance to acknowledge them, but he replied that it’s not my place, and he isn’t going to ask them to change for me.

    1. Makinwellness

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Regina. It sounds like your husband doesn’t understand or respect your boundaries, and prioritizes either his avoidance of conflict or the boundaries and comfort of his friend and their girlfriend. Your home is the place for your boundaries, so if not in your home, where should you protect your comfort and boundaries? Express this to your husband if you feel comfortable doing so. Perhaps you cannot tell your husband’s friend or their girlfriend how to act specifically, but you can and should be able to control how you are treated within your home by anyone who walks through the door.

  3. zach

    Is there a book you recommend to read on this issue. I am the one who has conflict avoidance in the relationship and its ruining my relationship

    1. Makinwellness

      Thanks for your question Zack. It is hard to recommend a specific book because the root issues that result in conflict avoidance behavior differs for each person. I recommend speaking to one of our therapists to understand the deeper reasoning behind the behavior. From there, your therapist can create a plan to work through the root causes and create healthier habits and behaviors so that you can create and maintain strong relationships.

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