Conflict Avoidance Can Get You In Big Trouble

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Source: stevepb/pixabay

Richard J. Vantrease of St. Petersburg, Florida tells this story in the January 2016 Sun Magazine.

“I married my college sweetheart in 1970, and we were together for twenty-eight years while raising a son, earning advanced degrees, and finding success in our careers. We rarely argued or raised our voices, but we drifted apart. 

We divorced, and I made new friends and tried dating, but my relationships never lasted more than a few months. My therapist told me I was “conflict avoidant.” Whenever I met a strong, woman, I wouldn’t stand up for myself. I’d just accuse her for being too pushy and break it off. 

Three years ago, my five-year old granddaughter became gravely ill. She survived, but for an agonizing seventy-two hours, my ex-wife and I were camped out in the hospital where she was begin treated. Several times we went downstairs to the cafeteria to get coffee and talk. 

After the crisis ended, my ex and I continued to talk. We discovered that despite our differences, we missed each other. We saw a marriage counselor forgave one another, and rekindled a sense of closeness. We even dealt with my fear of conflict and her so-called pushiness. 

Most important, we discovered how much we had both grown during our years apart. The faults and foibles that had previously come between us no longer seemed insurmountable, so we remarried.” 

Linda: It is rare and unusual for a divorced couple to remarry. But sadly, it is not rare for a couple to drift apart to the point where they don’t see the point of staying married. It is all too common, and often the downfall of a couple’s relationship has to do with one or both partners being conflict phobic. Avoiding addressing important issues has a corrosive effect on a partnership. Over time, the volume of incomplete issues continues to mount up. Consequently the trust, intimacy, and good will are badly damaged. Richard got another chance to put a correction in and to change his attitude about conflict. Rather than making his wife bad and wrong for her having angry feelings, bringing issues out into the open, asking to have her needs met, and her strong desire to negotiate together to have both of their needs met, he changed his attitude to see how important that process is. He took ownership of his cowardice, and also his lifelong pattern of taking himself off the hook, distracting from his own complicity, by blaming his wife for being a nagging complainer. Richard came to understand the benefit to both of them of bringing issues out into the open. At long last, Richard learned how to become a worthy opponent.

In the time that they were apart, I feel certain that Richard’s ex-wife was taking a look at herself and seeing her part in the demise of their marriage. No doubt, in missing him and doing her own work, she took responsibility for the unskillful way she was bringing up the important issues of their relationship. She learned how to bring up essential issues to be discussed in a patient and respectful way. I delight in thinking of this remarried pair becoming wiser about what makes partnerships work well.

Out of the wisdom of their life experience, the realization of the preciousness of their bond with each other, and the taking of responsibility for their part in the breakdown, a different type of partnership is now occurring. I can picture these two having a dispute, and Richard thanking his wife for bringing up the issue. And I picture Richard’s wife congratulating him for showing up for the interchange, saying how much she deeply respects his owning his power, and his willingness to negotiate with her.

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Relationships
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Learning from our experience
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