In today’s relationship culture, cohabitation and divorce are everywhere. Most of us have been hurt before and leaving a relationship is easy, so conflict avoidance seems like a reasonable way to prevent more hurt.
Unfortunately, fear of conflict puts a strain on your relationship that can eventually break it. Studies show that healthy couples communicate more than couples on the brink of divorce. Distressed couples show the strain of psychological distance caused by conflict avoidance.
Some therapists even say that engaging in conflict with your partner should actually bring you closer because you’ll be exploring the depths of your emotions and needs together. Welcoming conflict with your spouse can enable you both to appreciate your differences and learn how to better fulfill each others’ needs.
Fear of conflict puts a strain on your relationship that can eventually break it.
Women are naturally risk-avoidant, preferring instead to allow our men to go out into the world to take bigger risks in exchange for bigger payoffs. Being caretakers of the home and children, we make smaller moves and take smaller risks, especially when under stress.
Speaking the truth about your needs and desires in a relationship can feel risky, especially when you’ve been hurt by the end of a relationship in the past. We can imagine that what we want and need, and our most vulnerable feelings, will drive our partner away.
We imagine that what we want and need, and our most vulnerable feelings, will drive our partner away.
But that just isn’t true. One study shows that women who are more comfortable with conflict become more secure in their relationship over time. In comparison, conflict-avoidant women actually feel less secure in their relationship later on.
One way to explain this trend is that perhaps by sharing your truth early on in a relationship, you make your wants and needs part of the formula that brings you together as a couple. Then, maintaining that pattern allows you to stay close with your partner and mend the distance when you sense difficulties between you.
A Successful Formula To Overcome the Fear
So, how can we begin to incorporate a healthy sense of conflict and truth-telling in our relationships, if we’ve gotten out of that habit? Here are a few simple steps.
Be Aware of Your Needs
You may not realize that your needs and desires work in harmony with your partner’s needs and desires. Many women aren’t aware of what their husband’s true needs are in the marriage. In fact, it can often be difficult for us to articulate what we even want ourselves.
You may be surprised that what you want (and are probably scared to tell him) may be completely in alignment with what HE wants! Below are some common desires I observe in many couples:
You want him to lead. → He wants to be your hero.
You want his help with difficult feelings. → He wants to be a source of comfort to you.
You want him to be capable, decisive, and relieve some of your stress → He wants to demonstrate his competency by being helpful and solving problems for you.
Knowing that what you want and what he wants can flow together seamlessly may help you to counteract some of your fearfulness.
Focus on Your Desires
It’s often the punchline to a joke that husbands just want their wives to tell them what they want. So simple, right?!
Too often we use the negative — what we don’t want — to dictate our standards in the relationship. We say nothing until the line has been crossed or we run out of tolerance, then talk about what we don’t want and don’t like. This comes across as criticism and blaming. Our spouse then feels that he is the source of the problem, rather than part of the solution. That hurts your bond! Instead, look to the positive to guide you forward.
Make your wants and needs part of the formula that brings you together as a couple.
Focusing on your desires puts the goals of the relationship in the affirmative — what we do want. Being fearful of putting our desires out there to our husband causes stagnation and negativity. Be bold! Tell him what you want so he can be your hero.
Share Vulnerable Feelings
The most important factor to consider when sharing negative feelings is not blaming your partner for how you feel. It can be extremely tempting to draw conclusions about why we feel the way we do. But this robs our partner of the opportunity to help us figure out the problem and to be part of the solution.
In practical terms, what this comes down to is choosing our words carefully:
“I love it when...”
“You hurt my feelings”
“I don’t like it when…”
Vulnerable language starts with your own needs, desires, and feelings. (Leave out the part where you draw a conclusion and tell your partner what he should or shouldn’t do about those feelings.) You may be surprised at the positive results!
We want to feel safe and secure in our relationships, seeking commitment and reassurance from our partner. Avoiding conflict actually weakens the relationship and makes it harder to achieve our goals in marriage. On the flip side is our partner’s need to be helpful, capable, and solution-oriented.
If you want to feel closer in your bond and minimize the risk of divorce, make it easier for him to lead, to make decisions, and to say no sometimes. Do this by using vulnerable language instead of demanding or blaming language. Express your gratitude to reinforce his leadership and good judgment.