Conflict Coming Out Sideways
When I first meet a couple, I want to know their story. How did they meet? What attracted them to each other? When did they decide to commit? And...what are sources of conflict? If a couple answers, "we never fight," I am immediately concerned. If two people decide to journey together for decades, there are going to be moments in time where they don't agree, times where they don't meet each other's needs, and phases of life where they feel disconnected or divided.
All individuals have different values, dreams, and desires. This keeps a relationship interesting, but also causes conflict at times. The key is that we voice our needs, wants, and wishes openly with our person. This is ultimately what keeps us connected. We need to feel seen and heard.
I know...you're probably thinking this sounds nice in theory, but it isn't easy to bring up difficult topics. Who really enjoys fighting anyway? All that emotion and unpleasantness! So, maybe you choose to just go along with your husband's plan even though you really don't want to. Maybe you are angry that your wife shared a confidence, but you decide not to tell her. Maybe you feel criticized in your relationship, but you choose to walk on eggshells to avoid an argument. Maybe you have a dream that you want to pursue, but you assume that your person won't support you, so you never bring it up. Maybe you are really unhappy, but you decide you can just make it work. This, my friends, is conflict avoidance.
We all choose to avoid conflict from time to time. When I am in a cranky mood, and the the sound of spoons scraping on the bottom of a bowl of ice cream is making me cringe, I choose to move away from the situation. After all, Brad really isn't responsible for making my environment irritant-free. There are situations that just require a little time and a little sleep.
Then there are those topics that do not just fall away. Topics that tend to take up space in our minds regardless of how much we try to forget them. Interactions that have caused pain that we need to address. Times that we go along with someone else's needs or wants while building internal resentment, because we are neglecting our own needs. Unfortunately, these topics and experiences do not remedy with a night of sleep and an Oreo.
Some of us just put on a happy face and move forward. Some of us keep saying yes when we are internally screaming no. Some of us bend our lives to the shape our partner wants. Some of us stuff all of our emotions, because we fear what they will look like -- how they will come out. Some of us don't ask for our needs to be met, because we assume it is impossible to meet our needs.
Here is the issue. None of us can truly just "let everything go." Some of you might argue you can, but I truly believe that we all have an internal bucket where we stuff experiences that don't sit well with us. Even if we are really good at compartmentalizing, we hang on to the times where we don't feel seen and heard; we hang on to the times that have caused us pain, because these times create a certain amount of distrust in the relationship.
We all have a deep desire to live a life that is meaningful, and to be truly seen and accepted by our person. When we avoid conflict, we start to hide pieces of ourselves, and that creates disconnection.
When we avoid the difficult conversations, we may end up turning to numbing activities. We all have a way to escape. Whether that is alcohol, food, Facebook, work, gambling, running -- it all accomplishes avoidance. We will throw ourselves into activities instead of working through issues, and many of these numbing behaviors ultimately hurt us...things are going sideways.
When we assume that our person can not or is not willing to meet our needs, we can start to connect with someone else. It feels uncomfortable and vulnerable to ask clearly for what we want, because we fear we might be rejected. But there is real danger in not voicing what we desire, as we are opening ourselves up for potential affairs...things are going sideways.
When we continue to say yes and avoid expressing emotions, we build internal anger and resentment. Have you ever been in a fight that starts with one topic and jumps to about twenty others? These are most likely topics that have not been addressed fully and are haunting the relationship. If this anger goes unresolved, it festers, and can ultimately lead to toxic interactions...overblown, amplified interactions that are coming out sideways.
By avoiding difficult conversations, we all get into some really big messes that are difficult to clean up. I am constantly reflecting on how easy life would be if we would just talk about what we are really thinking and feeling -- if we talk about our needs and dreams, and if we listen to our person with curiosity (not judgement). Many times, couples attempt to avoid pain by avoiding deep conversation, and ultimately they create so much more pain. I encourage you to open the door to rich conversation. A lot of times these conversations are easier than you might imagine. We tend to dream up the worst case scenario.
Like everything else in life, communication skills take practice. Brandi and I love to work with couples in retreat settings to help them learn how to have rich conversation -- because, of course, that's where the magic is! Check out our upcoming retreats at: https://www.thethrivingrelationship.com/retreat