Nothing arouses my suspicion more than a couple that boasts that they never argue. It’s not that it doesn’t happen, it’s that I can guarantee that this enduring tranquility is coming at someone’s expense. And if that someone isn’t you, you would do well to ask yourself whether your partner is the one taking the hits.
At its core, a relationship is an ever-evolving negotiation because people change. Conflict arises as people grow apart, and is a sign that a renegotiation of the relationship’s forward path needs to take place.
It is important to note that conflict is unavoidable, because change is unavoidable. Every long term relationship’s survival will depend on both partners’ ability to communicate and adapt to these changes. With this in mind we need to remember that conflict is not:
- A symptom of a relationship that is on the verge of a breakup.
- A sign that either partner is being unreasonable, selfish or insensitive.
- A sigh of long term incompatibility.
If we accept conflict purely as the side-effect of two people who have naturally grown apart, which again, is unavoidable, we can address the issues at hand and make the relationship stronger than it previously was without fearing a breakup is around the corner.
Symptoms Of Conflict Avoidance
Making room for our partner’s needs is a good mindset to have. But sacrificing our core needs in an effort to stave off confrontation will just lead to resentment.
Our attempts to be agreeable (avoid conflict) and compromise can be taken for granted, but this is not necessarily our partner’s fault.
If we do not communicate our feelings we can’t expect our partner to read our minds. This is the much-treaded path to resentment. We sacrifice and expect our partner to reciprocate in some way, but instead they just take it all for granted. It is important to realize that much of the time our partner may be unaware of what compromising is costing us. it is up to us to let them know, before we judge them for their perceived callousness.
Conflict may be unpleasant, but it makes sure these issues come to the surface and are addressed. Conflict avoidance risks not just miscommunication, but a complete lack of meaningful communication.
Symptom 1: Out Of Nowhere
Conflict avoidance often leads to a scenario where relationship breakups seem to happen “out of the blue”, because one or both partners were unaware of how unsustainable the relationship had become.
If your relationship is tumultuous and impulsive, the root cause is likely poor communication. It is important to note that while your partner’s feelings may seem impulsive, there’s a good chance that there is a well of resentment that built over time, and that whatever argument you are now having is merely the straw the broke the camel’s back. This is why our partner’s tirade often feels overblown — because it is just the tip of the iceberg they never knew how to put into words. What they are really doing is throwing a kitchen sink of resentment at you that build gradually over time.
Once you calm things down and dig into each other’s feelings, you’ll be amazed at how deep the rabbit hole goes. Your partner will often bring up issues and recriminations that you had no idea existed.
Symptom 2: Distrust
Humans have evolved a keen sense of intuition when it comes to detecting dishonesty. Our survival depends upon it. Conflict avoidance, despite often being well-intentioned, is a deception, and it shows. Eventually, this discrepancy between how we act and what we say will bleed into the relationship and generate distrust.
Avoiding conflict does not mean avoiding the consequences of our silence. We may not oppose our partner’s demands, but as time goes on our suffering will become apparent. At this point our partner will wonder why the relationship seems to be falling apart, but will be powerless to stop it, because they have no idea what is causing us to burn out.
Conflict ensures that these problems are dealt with. It also gives our partner the tools to consider our feelings as well as theirs, and to make the appropriate adjustments.
Symptom 3: Lack Of Growth
If there is a great divide between what you say and how you feel, chances are high that you are burning out. It’s unavoidable. In time, because of all the compromises you’ve made, and demands you’ve caved into, you will become the shell of what you were, because all the things that made you tick as an individual have been stripped away.
This drained state of being will lead to a relationship that ceases to grow and evolve, because there’s no drive left for anything other than hanging on to the routine you’ve contributed to hanging yourself with.
Dealing With Conflict
When I say conflict, I don’t mean to conjure scenes of shouting or plate-throwing. Due to it’s other worldly applications, the word has become synonymous with violence and anger, but within the context of a relationship, arguing is anything but destructive. It is often a highly productive and relieving exercise. Assuming it is done correctly.
The trick to managing conflict is to be conscientious about the demands we make. One way of looking at it, is to make sure we demand the least actionable change necessary to satisfy our needs. In other words, what is the smallest sacrifice our partner would need to make in order to steer the relationship back on track for us.
Another relatively frictionless way of confronting a relationship issue is by limiting ourselves to telling our partners how we feel, rather than making an over-arching character judgment out of it. We are far more likely to get a positive response if pride is not dragged into the equation because otherwise all we are doing is forcing our partner on the defensive.
Let them haggle with it, and allow them the freedom of drawing their own conclusions. There’s every chance that they might find a solution that serves both of you that you had not thought of!