How Avoiding Conflict Can Become a Real Relationship Problem
There are many myths surrounding marriage. One of the most insidious is that happy couples never fight. Conflict is inevitable and natural. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with your partner or your partner disagreeing with you. The key lies not in avoiding conflict but rather in developing healthy ways to resolve your differences.
Today, you may be winning by skirting around issues, but in the long run, you’ll only be losing.
First, Consider the Effect of Stress on Your Relationship
Quick question, during the average day, do you feel stress? In this day and age, it would be a miracle if you didn’t.
Your relationship may be an incredible source of joy, but it can also cause a great deal of stress, especially in moments of conflict. Whether it’s because of an argument or something less significant, no relationship is exempt from experiencing occasional issues. Even your neighbor who seems to have the perfect marriage has their issues.
And the strain your partner can create may not even be intentional, and it often isn’t. But, outside of conflict, it’s common for people to take on their significant other’s daily stressors as their own. So, unconsciously your significant other may be the source of your stress without even trying.
How you deal with the mental strain, your relationship causes is much more important than people realize. Were you ever taught effective strategies for coping with stress, more specifically relationship stress? If not, don’t feel alone. Very few people are taught coping skills in any form when they were growing up.
Then again, you are grown up, now. And so, it’s time to learn how to properly manage stress because failure to do so can result in health issues for both you and your partner. Here are some ways your health can be affected if you don’t correctly manage relationship-related stress.
When you’re experiencing issues in your relationship, it’s hard to think about anything else sometimes. The inability to think outside of your relationship problems can be harmful to your mental health. Instead of focusing on things that make you happy in life, negative thoughts and emotions consume your energy.
Stress in a relationship concerning cleanliness or who spends the most money is common in most relationships. However, if your self-worth is being damaged or you’re being broken down mentally, contemplate if the relationship is the best for you.
Your brain can only take so much before it needs relief. The emotions you feel when dealing with issues in your relationship can lead to more significant problems like depression. According to a 2017 study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. Depression symptoms may include:
- Loss of Appetite
- Persistent Sadness
- Suicidal Thoughts
These are just a few of the symptoms people can experience when going through a depressive episode. If you believe you may have depression, contact an experienced therapist.
Stress and mental health can affect you and your partner in the bedroom just as they can in the outside world. While sex depends a lot on physical well-being, your mental state also plays a prominent role in performance, confidence, and more. Sweeping arguments or relationship stress under the rug can severely affect your time in the bedroom.
For men, it can result in performance issues such as erectile dysfunction (ED). When stressed out or experiencing some sort of anxiety, men’s brains do not send the proper chemicals vital in getting an erection, leading to more mental strain as men who experience ED are prone to depression.
For women, relationship problems can result in a decrease in sexual arousal and overall interest in sex which makes intercourse between a couple tough, adding to an already tense environment. Low sexual desire is strongly linked to depression, as evidence from the National Library of Medicine shows.
Stress in a relationship can also cause fertility issues making it harder for you to conceive in the future. Chronic stress can lower how much testosterone a man produces and impact the quality of sperm.
How you deal with the stress that you experience because of your relationship can affect your emotional health. If you are someone who tends to avoid dealing with problems in your relationship or suppress your feelings for the “greater good,” you’re going to explode eventually.
Whether you release all of your emotions at once to a significant other, or you explode by having a mental breakdown, keeping your feelings bottled up is never suitable for anyone. Why? Because by allowing stress to build up, you are bound to start harboring negative feelings towards your significant other, leading to passive-aggressive statements and tension.
What could’ve been a typical conversation between two people has turned into an explosive argument.
To avoid this, you must learn who you are as an individual first. As people enter relationships, it turns from “me” into “us,” and that’s okay, but it’s still necessary for you to understand yourself first.
Without understanding your thoughts and feelings, how can you grasp someone else’s? Being more secure in your emotions will allow you to properly deal with your partner’s emotions, creating a healthier, longer-lasting relationship.
What To Do About Stress in Your Relationship
Stress affects us in more ways than we’d like to admit. Our bodies and minds can only take so much, and there is really nothing wrong with that. But we need strategies for effectively coping with these feelings, or else you risk the health of not only you but your relationship, too.
To relieve some of the stress you feel in your relationship, make sure to take self-care days. Dedicate these days to you and your mental health. Doing things that make you happy can be just what you need when you feel like you’re drowning. When engaging in self-care activities, do them without your partner.
Sometimes some space away from your significant other makes for a more proactive time. It also allows you to reassess the situation with a clear, levelheaded mind.
To understand your emotions a little better, try journaling. Journaling is a great way to keep track of how you’re feeling on a day-to-day basis. When you feel like you cannot adequately express your feelings to someone else, writing them down is an easier option.
As you get farther in your journaling journey, go back to some of your old entries. Reviewing post thoughts can give you a sense of clarity about yourself as well as your relationship. You can also practice effective communication skills for effective ways to get each other’s needs met.
Aside from putting off intercourse until you fully resolve your problems, try talking to a medical professional about the reasons for the stress that you are experiencing in your relationship. Talking to a therapist will give you an unbiased opinion and help you not only an impartial opinion but help you to mentally get where you need to be to get intimate in the bedroom again.
Although it may be embarrassing, it’s crucial to bring up the sexual difficulties and seek help. And, thankfully, there are professionals, both in mental health and medicine, that can help you with these kinds of issues.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to recognize that it’s an issue. You and your partner’s sexual health is an integral part of your relationship, and if there are issues, they should be addressed. You deserve that.
4 Ways Avoiding Conflict Can Become a Relationship Problem
Conflict isn’t fun. It’s not often you wake up in the morning and think, I feel like fighting with my partner today. Usually, it’s just not the right time to have that discussion because you are both too busy or too tired, but you can’t avoid conflict forever.
You see, each of us has a unique history that can help shape how we deal with (or not deal with) conflict. For example, if our parents and siblings were aggressive or bullying, we may have learned to maintain distance.
In other cases, the distance may not have been our choice. Emotionally absent parents can lead to children who will isolate themselves in times of duress. Therefore, it’s not “wrong” to discover such a pattern in yourself.
Moreover, you may just be afraid of conflict, which is understandable. Without them, though, you may be missing critical information about your partner and how they see either the world. Learning how to disagree isn’t something a lot of us were taught, but you will never agree with everyone all the time.
No matter how you look at it, letting this stuff sit unaddressed is not the answer. Here are four ways your avoidance can come back to bite you.
1. Problems Simmer in Silence
Most issues are easier resolved in their early stages. On some level, we all know this. Yet, how often do we choose to dodge and evade instead of confronting head-on?
There will, of course, be times where you just don’t want to fight, but each day—each hour—that passes, the problems fester more. After a while, our unspoken anger may be more about the lack of resolution than the actual problem itself.
Have you ever noticed this in your relationship? The original subject fades, but the tension, whether we are willing to see it or not, always remains.
2. Anger and Resentment Appear in Other Contexts
If we’re not voicing discomfort about a specific problem, that anger doesn’t disappear. Where it chooses to re-appear may vary—as will how it decides to re-appear. Anger, fear, and hurt are not feelings that you can just shut off. It’s often just redirected, and if you aren’t careful, it can get ugly.
It could mean you end up overreacting to a minor issue. For others, it may be passive-aggressive manipulations. These types of outbursts can be hurtful and will damage your relationships with others, as well as your partner.
3. It Impacts Your Intimacy
Intimacy. Do you know what that means? Intimacy is much, much more than mere lust and arousal.
It can be the way you rest your head on your partner’s shoulder on a tough day or the way you look at each other when only you two get the joke. Similarly, taking the time to be honest about how you feel and telling your partner you love and appreciate them is a form of intimacy.
For example, when we have unresolved differences lurking just beneath the surface, we’re more likely to miss each other’s cues. Sometimes, we’ll miss them on purpose.
4. You Create a False Perception of Your Compatibility
Perhaps your friends and family marvel at you. You’re the perfect couple, the duo that never fights. Avoiding conflict is not the same as “never fighting,” It can skew our perception of how things are going for us as a team.
How to Resolve Conflict and Avoid Relationship Problems
It’s not the absence of conflict that makes a relationship healthy; it’s the way you manage it. We shouldn’t view conflict as something that needs to be “fixed,” as it’s a normal part of any relationship. Instead, we should see it as a relational experience that needs to be handled appropriately.
Also, love can be eternal, but compatibility is another story. Compatibility is a process, and therefore, its most substantial component is a willingness to do the work. In a way, you and your spouse never have compatibility. You create it, and you nurture it; a process is fraught with obstacles.
With teamwork and dedication, this is indeed possible. However, in times of conflict, we can take our eyes off the prize and get lost in the temporary strife. For the record, issues like abuse and infidelity are more than fleeting strife. That said, the vast majority of animosity is likely manageable.
You don’t have to avoid conflict. You and your partner will argue and disagree, and that’s okay, but you can work to handle disagreements without walking away feeling worse than you started. Allow your relationship to thrive by using these conflict management tools effectively:
1. Take a breath before talking
Your first impression may or may not be an accurate impression as emotions, especially heated ones, will make your information processing a little fuzzy. If you stop to “collect yourself,” you’ll notice that you can actually think about your responses and not overreact. So, take a breath, check yourself and your tone before speaking up. We promise this will always help.
2. Direct Communication
For starters, do not rely on digital communication. Talk face-to-face as often as possible, staying honest and direct. Avoid passive-aggressive language and body language. Trust your connection to handle blunt conversations that get to the heart of an issue.
3. Focus on the problem, not the person
Instead of attacking, criticizing, or placing blame on your partner, fight fairly and focus on the issue at hand. Remember that while they play a role in the problem, they are not the problem. When you focus on the problem instead of your partner, you can effectively manage conflict better while ensuring your relationship stays intact.
4. Pick Your Battles
No two people can be completely compatible. Compromise is inevitable and necessary. Choose — together and individually — which issues are worthy of the struggle.
Also, don’t see “winning” as the only goal or resolution. If you both feel like crap at the end, no one really wins. Relationship conflict is not about convincing; and but instead, it’s about learning. Each disagreement provides us with a chance to learn something new—in general—but also learn something new about our spouse.
5. Don’t make things bigger than they are
None of us is perfect, and we all make mistakes, but try not to make the small problems bigger than they need to be. If your partner leaves the milk out and it spoils, is that something worth nagging them over?
Chances are, it was a mistake that your partner already feels badly about, so don’t make them feel worse. Your feelings of frustration are valid. However, these little frustrations add up and don’t need to be blown out of proportion.
6. Watch Your Language
Words like always and never can quickly turn a smooth discussion into an ugly argument. Also, avoid “you” statements, e.g., “you do this all the time.” Try “I” statements, e.g., “I feel this way whenever you say or do that.” Make it clear that you have your own perspective, a perspective that must be appreciated and validated.
7. Utilize active listening, hear your partner’s complaints
When you’re engaging in conflict management, don’t just lecture at your partner and vice versa. Listen to what they have to say and repeat it back to ensure the message is clear. You or your partner may think you’ve done an adequate job of interpreting the problem. Still, they may have heard something completely different. When you practice active listening, there’s not a lot of room for misinterpretation.
Even if you are positive that you’ve heard all their complaints before, listen with compassion to resolve marriage conflict effectively. You can and will hear more nuance if you keep your mind open. This doesn’t mean you’ll change your mind. But you can change your mindset.
8. Set Boundaries & Pace Yourself
Emotions are usually at their highest during times of conflict, but that doesn’t mean you and your partner don’t deserve to be treated with respect. If your partner displays unhealthy behaviors while you’re arguing, ask them to stop or tell them you’ll discuss the problem when you’re both in a calmer state. Prevent yourself from saying something you’ll regret by setting boundaries before and during the conflict.
Because when tough conversations must be had, it is essential to factor in timing and pace. Sometimes are better than others to hash things out. And there’s nothing wrong with taking a time-out when you need it. Stay patient and aware of each other’s needs and boundaries.
9. Forgive and forget
Let’s face it, you and your partner won’t agree on EVERYTHING, and that’s okay. Each of us is different and holds different beliefs and values. Inevitably there will be things you disagree about. Drop the fight and agree to disagree in these instances.
10. Be willing to accept responsibility
Your partner is probably just as frustrated with you as you are with them. Fully listen to what they have to say and accept that you may have played a role in the conflict. Don’t play the victim or stay in denial – admit to the problem instead and apologize for the part you played.
11. Don’t generalize behaviors
People have a tendency to stray away from the conflict at hand when they are arguing. They begin pulling from past experiences while making character generalizations. You’ve probably noticed that an argument about communication has started with “this is so typical of your behavior like that one time last month when you __________ .”
We venture into a dangerous conflict territory when we don’t focus on the present issue and harp on past experiences.
12. Treat your partner with respect
A lot gets lost amid conflict so remember the golden rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. Don’t cuss them out, call them names, roll your eyes, yell, etc. These behaviors are a surefire way to make your situation worse.
13. Stay Rooted in Love
Let’s go back to this line: Love can be eternal, but compatibility is another story. Your love brought you together, and your love can keep you together if you stay rooted in it because this is not a war.
Avoid contempt and blame. Talk to your partner with all the love you feel for them — even when that feels really hard. (That’s where the time-outs come in handy.) Compatibility is so much easier to find and maintain when its foundation is love.
Counseling Can Help Resolve Marriage Conflict
We’re conditioned to see arguing as a terrible sign for your relationship. As a result, a lot of couples outright avoid conflict. That is to say, we don’t think you should attack every disagreement you have. Instead, we recommend you not ignore the underlying concerns and issues that create conflict.
The longer a relationship, the deeper a pattern can become and we may choose to avoid conflict without even thinking. Then, if our partner tries to move beyond that pattern, we may respond with confusion and anger.
When you and your spouse feel stuck, couples counseling is a proven option toward long-term success. In fact, even when things are running smoothly, therapy can help keep it that way. Your therapist serves as a guide, a mediator, and perhaps even a referee of sorts.
In a safe, neutral space, each partner can speak directly to the issue and grievances can be aired out. Patterns are identified and new approaches are explored. There can be magic in the mere act of committing together to resolve marriage conflict intentionally. Remember, you are not alone and don’t have to figure everything out on your own.
Conflict management can be tricky, especially if you and your partner are not used to solving your problems in an effective way. Learn more about cultivating a happy and healthy relationship with couples counseling. Please contact one of our relationship counselors in Houston to find out more or read more about our marriage counseling services that help with your relationship.
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