Avoidance: Methods of Dealing with Conflict

One of the most difficult aspects of married life is successfully navigating through the times of conflict that inevitably occur with every couple.  There are five typical methods of dealing with marital conflict.  [See previous article.]  One of the most common methods is avoidance. Avoidance is a form of withdrawal in which individuals seek to remove themselves from conflict – either physically or emotionally.  This can happen for a number of different reasons and it is virtually always a poor way of handling conflict.

Similar to appeasement, avoidance may appear to bring peace to a tumultuous situation.  But this perceived peace is fools gold - it's not the real thing.  Avoidance actually works against the goals of marriage by giving up on developing the relationship.  Not only is this method of handling tough times ineffective in fulfilling needs, it ultimately reflects a low concern for the long-term health of the marriage.

While avoidance can stem from a passive-aggressive attitude, it is often associated with hopelessness or fatalism.  The person who withdraws often feels completely unheard, misunderstood, or that he/she has no leverage at all to positively influence the situation.  At times husband and wife may both feel this way and simultaneously resort to avoiding all conflict - and each other.  They feel nothing positive will happen - so why even try? 

In some situations a person will fall into a pattern of avoidance as an unconscious defensive mechanism.  When someone feels emotionally unsafe to share their feelings or thoughts he/she may instinctively withdraw.  This may manifest itself as shutting down emotionally or even physical distance.

In any case, not only is avoidance a completely ineffective way to deal with conflict - it is also significant warning sign that the relationship may be in trouble.  This does not preclude the occasional and temporary withdrawal from a tense situation or heated argument.  Sometimes it is better to step away for a time until cooler heads can prevail.  Not every conflict needs to be resolved immediately, sometimes it is better to agree to revisit the issue at a more appropriate time.  However, if avoidance has become a familiar pattern for dealing with conflict it does not bode well for the marriage.

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