The Problems with Avoiding Conflict 

Sometimes, avoiding conflict can become more problematic than dealing with the problem head-on. However, some people choose to avoid conflict for a variety of reasons. Over time, this can lead to lots of marital problems.

Reasons People Avoid Conflict

Sometimes people avoid conflict out of fear. They don’t want to upset their spouse. Perhaps they grew up in a home where there was a lot of fighting and as a result, learned “anger is bad.” Or maybe their spouse blows things out of proportion so out of a desire to keep the peace they avoid confronting them when they feel something is wrong.

At other times, people avoid confrontation out of the best of intentions. A husband may not want to disagree with his wife in front of the children. Or a wife may be trying to be polite in front of others. However, these problems may go unaddressed altogether.

Sometimes people just aren’t aware that conflict is okay. They have a belief that conflict is “bad” and should be avoided at all cost. People with these sorts of beliefs will often go to great lengths to avoid disagreements.

Problems Go Unresolved

When conflict is not addressed, problems go unresolved. Just because you ignore them or try to sweep them under the rug doesn’t make them go away. This often means that problems just continue to build in a marriage.

Resentment can often result from unaddressed problems. For example, a husband who spends his weekends always checking off his wife’s “honey-do list” without ever speaking up is likely to become angry with his wife if he doesn’t want to do them. If he values time with friends and family and hobbies over cleaning the garage, staining the deck and installing new windows, he isn’t going to be satisfied.

Occasionally you hear of a couple who is getting divorced and one partner says, “I had no idea it was coming.” Sometimes this is because problems simply went unresolved. Conflict was avoided and although they may have never fought, both of their needs weren’t getting met.

Passive-Aggressive Behaviors Result

Passive-aggressive behaviors often occur when people avoid conflict. Instead of saying to their partner, “Actually I don’t want to do that,” they may smile and outwardly pretend to agree. For many, passive-aggressive behaviors seem like a better option in the short-term, however, they have long-term consequences.

Some signs of passive-aggressive behavior include things such as procrastination. When a spouse says, “Yes, I’ll do that,” yet he makes no attempts to actually go get it done, it’s pretty clear he’s not on board. The “In a minute,” or “I’ll get to that soon,” type of responses may pacify a spouse for a few minutes but it will likely lead to problems when it isn’t getting done.

Sometimes people “forget” to do things when they are passive-aggressive as well. For example, “Oh, I forgot we were going to your mother’s this weekend,” may really mean, “I purposely planned a fishing trip so I wouldn’t have to go.”

Moping and the silent treatment are other tell-tale signs of passive-aggressive behavior. These behaviors are often meant to punish a spouse. Other ways someone may punish their spouse include things like withholding sex or spending money. All of these behaviors damage a marriage.

Communication Becomes Problematic

When people fear conflict, communication becomes problematic. They may answer questions based on what they think their spouse wants to hear. They may also say one thing to their spouse and something else to another person.

When people avoid conflict, they tend to give mixed signals when talking to their spouse. For example, instead of just coming out and saying, “I don’t want to go hiking for our anniversary this year,” they may beat around the bush with something like, “I was thinking it might be cold out so maybe we should look for indoor activities.” This sort of communication tends to lead to confusion and frustration much of the time.

People who try to avoid conflict often come across as indecisive and “wishy-washy.” They may agree to do something because they don’t want to say no but then have an illness or find an excuse to prevent them from having to do something.

Learning to Have Healthy Conflict

Anger and conflict are not bad. There are ways to have healthy conflict within the marriage. It is also important to work through issues of anger.  Knowing that you can disagree, get angry with one another, and work through it separates an intimate relationship from most other relationships. Where it may make sense to avoid conflict with a neighbor you barely know, it’s important to have enough trust in your marriage to respectfully disagree.

The good news is, conflict resolutions skills can be learned. It takes practice and courage to address conflict if you’ve been avoiding it for a long time. However, it can certainly do wonders for your marital satisfaction and the overall health of your marriage.

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