FOR THE LOVE OF RELATIONSHIPS – The elephant in the room

Most of us would consider ourselves to be open and honest, but if you ask individuals in healthy and satisfying relationships and families, many will admit they avoid conflict as to not evoke drama. While topic avoidance is often healthy, avoiding conflict can trigger dissatisfaction, anxiety, or worse. According to Dr Scott Stanley, the inability to resolve conflict is the number one reason relationships, whether family friendship, romantic, or collegial go south.

There are many reasons for opening-up and disclosing information that is recycling in your brain and heart. According to robust and plentiful research, disclosure breeds connection and intimacy.  When disclosure or vulnerable sharing stops, the relationship suffers. The exchange of information is part of why relationships develop in the first place.  Brene’ Brown, an expert on vulnerability, talks about how vulnerable communication is what creates compassion, trust and empathy in relationships.  This is showcased in the “cycle of disclosure” at the beginning of romantic relationships when partners take turns expressing personal information. This process is also called the “Dance of Intimacy”.

Shutting down regarding conflict can affect your health negatively. Studies have shown that trying to suppress a thought or a strong emotion makes it more frequent and intrusive.  One researcher described this as trying to keep a beachball from coming up in the water. It is a struggle that zaps energy.

If you have noticed a pattern of conflict avoidance in yourself, your partner or in other relationships, you might be a people pleaser resulting in hurt and dysfunction. This could be a pattern of fear from your family of origin where there was no emotional safety for you to confront conflict as a child or adolescent.

To stop this cycle of conflict avoidance, the first step is to internalize and embrace what healthy conflict resolution can do to grow and enhance your relationships. Discovering your voice, honoring your feelings, and speaking them out loud becomes empowering.

Practice staying calm. Effective communication relies on patience, calmness, and “I” statements. Instead of casting blame, give your perspective intentionally. The goal is to become more assertive, not aggressive. Learn the four danger signs of communication which are escalation, invalidation, withdrawal, and negative interpretations. If one of these danger signs are present, take a time out. Stop, move away from the conversation for at least 30 minutes but no more than 24 hours. Make another appointment with the one you are having conflict with and start over. Speak in short, “I” statements and state your feelings. Then let your partner paraphrase back what you said until you agree that, indeed, that is what you were communicating. Being heard is the first step in resolving conflict. This method is called the Speaker/ Listener Technique.  Here at the Center for Relationship Education we teach this skill to children and adults alike. It is a life skill that is a game changer enhancing and maintaining healthy relationships.  Remember when dealing with conflict, take it slow and work on one issue at a time. You might even be able to tackle the elephant in the room.