Arguments in relationships are normal. When you are able to work through conflict together, intimacy can deepen. However, when you or your partner handle conflict by avoiding it altogether, your relationship can suffer. Although things may seem fine on the surface, anger, resentment, and bitterness can be brewing underneath. In fact, avoiding conflict can cause many problems in your relationship and can weaken your couple connection.

What Is Relationship Conflict

Relationship conflict refers to a disagreement, argument, or debate that takes place between two people within a relationship. Relationship conflict highlights basic differences between you and your partner. It is a normal part of a relationship. When two people with different backgrounds, beliefs, ideas, wants and desires come together, conflict is bound to occur. Conflict has a negative connotation, but can actually be quite healthy for your relationship. However, fighting with your partner can be uncomfortable for some. In order to avoid an emotional response, you might instead avoid conflict altogether.

What Is Conflict Avoidance

Conflict avoidance refers to a way of addressing a disagreement or problem by intentionally not dealing with it. One of the most common ways of avoiding conflict is to ignore the problem. By ignoring the problem and not discussing it, you don’t have to deal with the outcome. Another way to avoid conflict is to change the subject. When your partner is discussing something that upsets them, you start discussing something bothering you instead. This is a way of deflecting your partner’s concerns. Stonewalling, or shutting down, also helps you avoid conflict. When you stonewall, you might remove yourself from the situation every time an uncomfortable topic is brought up. You could also simply refuse to respond to your partner. Doing this can help you avoid uncomfortable topics, but can seem very dismissive to your partner.

Why Conflict Is Avoided

Reasons that you might avoid conflict can vary. At the beginning of a relationship, you might feel that if you have a fight, your relationship will end. You might decide to remain silent to avoid possible disagreements. For many, conflict is seen as bad. You might be afraid that you will hurt your partner, or that conflict will lead to more problems. There can be a fear of not being liked by your partner, so you hide your true feelings. Perhaps, you never witnessed healthy conflict and resolution when you were a child. If you experienced childhood abuse, you may even fear conflict. This fear can lead to a belief that conflict is dangerous and must be avoided. However, avoiding conflict can lead to problems in your relationship that can be difficult to overcome.

A Pursuer/Distancer Dynamic Can Develop

If you avoid conflict, your partner might try to get you to respond to them by pursuing you more. In response, you could end up becoming even more distant. This sets up an unhealthy relationship dynamic. The more you withdraw, the more your partner chases. However, the anxiety this causes in each of you can actually perpetuate the cycle. Instead of bringing you closer, this relationship dynamic creates distance that can be hard to understand and address.

Resentment Can Build

Resentment is the bitterness and anger you feel as a result of perceived mistreatment. When your partner never wants to discuss the things that are bothering you, the issues can’t be resolved. Over time, this can lead to resentment. Resentment can occur when you feel your needs aren’t being met. It can be difficult for you to have empathy for your partner when you think they don’t understand you. You may begin to feel as though they don’t really care about you or your feelings. It is hard to even attempt to meet each other’s needs when you are not discussing your needs. When resentment builds up, you notice all the ways your partner is disappointing you. If it continues to build, it can eventually lead to an explosion, or even contempt. 

Intimacy Can Weaken

Intimacy is about having a deep connection with your partner. When you feel like you can share your wants, needs, and concerns, intimacy is strengthened. Keeping things pleasant on the surface, but being unable to discuss what bothers you, can erode your couple intimacy. When you feel as though can’t talk to your partner, intimacy suffers. You can begin to feel distant from one another. This can affect all aspects of your relationship. If you don’t feel deeply bonded, your sex life and couple connection can begin to erode. 

Communication Problems Can Occur

When you don’t talk to your partner about what is bothering you, it can be difficult to talk in general. Discussing superficial topics can become strained and difficult as bottled up feelings and resentment eventually need an outlet. Instead of just avoiding conflict, you might end up avoiding your partner altogether. Tension lying just beneath the surface can be strongly felt. Superficial conversation can begin to feel meaningless, and you might avoid communicating with your partner at all.

Feelings Of Loneliness Can Increase

Everyone longs to feel heard and understood. The more you avoid conflict, the less heard and understood you begin to feel. You might begin to believe that your relationship is lacking meaningful connection. The more distant you feel, the more distance can build. When you do not feel safe sharing things with your partner, you could start to feel lonely. You could keep things bottled up so it doesn’t lead to conflict. The fear of facing conflict and being vulnerable in your relationship can actually increase feelings of loneliness.

These are just some of the ways that avoiding conflict can affect your relationship. If you notice that your relationship is suffering because you or your partner avoid conflict, couples counseling can help. When you are able to address conflict, instead of avoiding it, your couple connection can strengthen.

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