A few years ago PREPARE/ENRICH conducted a survey of over 50,000 married couples. It turned out that 78% of couples reported that they go out of their way to avoid conflict with their partner.
Maybe we could interpret this as a good thing—that the majority of couples are simply extra polite and courteous to their partner, not wanting to upset them.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Avoiding conflict was listed as one of the top five conflict-relatedproblems for couples. “Why is it a problem?” you might ask. “Isn’t it a good thing to get along with your spouse?” Yes, it is, for the most part. But conflict in relationships is inevitable, and when managed in a healthy way, it’s also a vehicle for relationship growth.
I, like many others I’m sure, have learned the hard way that avoiding conflict does not make issues go away. I used to be the master of not speaking up when I was mad or upset about something. Instead, I would secretly hope that my partner would figure out I was mad and subsequently apologize. Shockingly, he was not (and still is not) a mind reader, and in the meantime my resentment would build upon itself, until inevitably I would blow up over something seemingly small and/or unrelated to the actual issue. At that point, he would realize, “Hmm, she is mad about… something,” and I would then have the pleasant task of trying to explain why I was actually mad—because of that thing that happened weeks ago.
With time (and some tears), I learned that even though it can be uncomfortable and sometimes cause temporary conflict with my partner, it is crucial to address feelings and issues head on. I’ve learned to think about it this way: when I ignore an issue in order to avoid conflict, I am taking a step away from my partner, distancing myself from him by adding a brick to the metaphorical wall between us. By talking to my partner about the problem (while remembering to utilize assertive communication and active listening, of course), I learn more about myself, about my partner, and how we can be better for each other, ultimately bringing us closer as a couple.
It would be nice to be able to say, “Lesson learned!” and claim that I no longer struggle with avoiding conflict, but that would be untrue. Working through contentious issues is still hard; it is still uncomfortable. It will probably never be something I look forward to. For me, it’s like working out: I don’t want to do it. But when it’s over, I always feel better. And my body (or in this case, my relationship) is stronger because of it.