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Doing Life Together

conflict 2Mary and Bill are arguing again. Mary hates how she feels when conflict happens. She wants to retreat, run or hide, or simply  avoid. Too often, she chooses to avoid, but is this a good idea?

For the most part, NO, at least when we are talking interpersonal relationships that are trying to grow in intimacy. Sure, there may be times when you don’t want to take on a boss, or speak up to a difficult person who refuses to deal with you on any rational terms. And certainly, you don’t want to push conflict with someone who could physical hurt you, or with whom you have safety concerns.

But in our everyday relationships with our significant others, conflict avoidance isn’t the best strategy for several reasons. Psychological research backs this up.

Conflict avoidance …

  • initially reduces stress. This is true. The sense of relief we feel when we avoid is immediate. The problem is that we don’t feel better the next day. The tension mounts, the conflict is still the elephant in the room and nothing has been solved. Like so many things, avoiding doesn’t make the problem go away. It just delays.
  • can result in physical symptoms and negative well-being. Yes, we pay a price holding on to stress. In fact, researchers at the University of Michigan found that people who deal with conflict live longer. Suppressed anger undoes your health. So if you want to live longer, don’t avoid!
  • can create irritability if it simmers below the surface, especially if we disengage or feel powerless to act. The danger here is that eventually we may explode. A simmering pot eventually boils!
  • doesn’t teach us how to solve problems and cope with disagreement or problems. When we avoid, we bring that pattern into other relationships in which we need good conflict skills. Not rocking the boat doesn’t help the boat move forward.We don’t practice and learn to deal with other people who disagree.

So if you are like Mary and want to avoid conflict, consider the cost. Work on your conflict skills despite the discomfort. Not only will your relationships improve, but your physical health will as well.

For more help with how to do this, We Need To Talk, by Dr. Linda Mintle

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