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Conflict Avoidance

Choosing24give posted 12/8/2017 00:24 AM

Hi all - very new to posting. Iíve posted one time before and ended up realizing I was in too fragile of a state to really talk in depth about my story.

That said, I received some wonderful advice from folks here from my single post and have hit a point where Iím ready to start conversing with others.

Long story short Iíve been in a relationship with my SO for 10 years. Weíve been together since high school and essentially grew up together. He was truly my rock and best friend and his 8 month affair totally rocked my world as we were talking marriage, family, etc. in depth.

Weíve been going to counseling together and our therapist has labeled him as conflict avoidant. It all made sense as I started to analyze past behavior. We were never able to finish a ďfightĒ and whenever anything troublesome came up it was ignored as if it never existed. I struggle to understand how anyone can pretend that things are rosy when they are not because I am very, VERY expressive.

I was hoping someone could help me understand how to best deal with the conflict avoidance or provide any tips for how I can make it known that it is not going to be acceptable moving forward. I realize this is not something he will just simply break out of but I desperately need him to work on this if we are to fully reconcile. I also want to give him the right opportunity to work on this and I want to figure out how to properly encourage him to work on this. Perhaps Iím being too gentle?

Sorry if Iím posting in the wrong forum. Iím very new to this.

Thanks in advance!

Oldwounds posted 12/8/2017 00:50 AM

Sorry to see you here with us.

Hopefully, the counselor pointed out that while conflict avoidance can create some relationship difficulties ó it doesnít excuse cheating. And even if he works on that issue, it will not preclude him from making future bad choices.

My wife is a conflict avoidance champion, her whole family is that way. As the divide in our relationship grew, the more she walled up and didnít share her despair.

It takes a couple things to work on the issue; the will to change, lots of practice and some patience and encouragement (which is really hard when youíre dealing with the pain and anger of infidelity).

For example, when my wife brings up a tough issue, I appreciate the effort, knowing it isnít easy for her.

It also helps to know the pattern of communication now too. I know to follow up with questions when it feels off or that something is missing. A year and a half later, she is making progress on that stuff and her poor boundaries as well.

Mickeymom posted 12/8/2017 08:17 AM

Itís very interesting to me as soooo many cheaters are conflict avoiders and the WS is the opposite. It just hit me as I read your post are we WS attracted to conflict avoiders, because we are the expressive type? Anyhoo... I think itís a process and I agree there is a lot of patience involved conflict avoiders canít change over night doesnít mean they get to cheat but working on theirselves learning to express their emotions instead of stuff them down is difficult just as it would be difficult for an expressive person to not say anything. When the BS is not so fragile, itís very hard in the beginning because of the shock of the trauma but when ready itís true, ask the questions always follow up when more information is needed and I am not talking about A stuff this is life stuff working together to change away someone is use to dealing with things takes time people easily revert back to what they are used to whatís comfortable. Thatís the work the WS has to do to be willing to change what there use to and the BS being willing to give them an opportunity.

northeasternarea posted 12/8/2017 08:26 AM

You canít make him change. He has to want to change. Your focuse needs to be you. What do you want, and can you have what you want with him?

Unhinged posted 12/8/2017 10:15 AM

Hi Choosing24give. Welcome to SI.

The first thing you need to understand about people with strong tendencies to avoid conflicts is that we avoid the conflicts within ourselves first and foremost. That makes avoiding conflicts with others all the easier, because we've normalized that behavior, believe that everyone is 'forgiving' and minimizes conflict, and we becomes comfortable within our walls. We create a level of interpersonal acceptance that often falls short of the expectations of others, especially those with strong tendencies towards conflict resolution. In essence, we create a trap from which we are unable to escape.

These were my 'to go' coping mechanisms until my fww blew my world apart. It took a conflict that fucked-up to finally get me to rip down those walls and embrace the conflicts within, not to mention those that I suddenly had with my cheating, lying, blame-shifting wife.

I'm a bit 'below the curve' when it comes to conflict avoidance and wall-building. I used to think I was off the charts, but no. I wasn't. After being here, on SI, for a few years, I've come to understand that there are people out there who's tendencies to avoid conflicts and build walls are far stronger than mine ever were.

I don't know your WBF, of course, so I couldn't possibly know anything about these conflicts of his that he either won't, or can't, resolve himself. Only he can do that, if he's willing to stop avoiding.

A good IC can help him do this. Until that happens, I'd put couples counseling on the back burner for a while. A long while.

A very wise member here often writes that "change occurs when the pain of same exceeds the pain of change." He's absolutely right. After D-day, I could have avoided my wife and simply divorced her. I could have built more walls. But, instead, I had an epiphany of sorts. My fww, like you, spent years banging her head against this mad-bugger's wall. Now, I was going to let it all out. Oh yes. I tore down those walls and let her see it all.

It's a bit different, however, being a betrayed husband. It's hard to put into words, but when I was in that much pain, I suddenly understood that these coping mechanisms were going to fail me. I had to learn something new. I had to figure this out for myself, because I had to put myself back together. It wasn't just that I had some new found motivation to make a positive change in my life. Oh no. I wasn't given a choice.

You can choose to forgive if you feel that strongly about it. People often say that it's something we do for ourselves. However, in my humble opinion, that won't motivate or encourage him to change, it will simply reinforce his tendencies to avoid, avoid, avoid... because, well... you forgive him, right?

Until he's willing and able to address the conflicts within himself that creates this emotion distance, he will never change.

In other words, you have to give him a conflict that he simply cannot avoid. As we say around here, if you want to save your marriage (relationship), you have to be willing to risk it's ruin.

Keep readign and posting, Choosing24give. Other voices, I'm sure, will lend their perspectives as well.

I was hoping someone could help me understand how to best deal with the conflict avoidance
I hope this helps.

dazed77 posted 12/8/2017 11:12 AM

Choosing - I think your description of your WBF is similar to that of my WH. My WH learned to avoid conflict as a coping mechanism from his childhood. His step-dad was a functioning alcoholic that didn't know how to handle stress. He would frequently "pick" fights with my WH (from middle school age on up until he moved out at 22ish). My WH learned to just avoid him and try to keep the peace for his mom's sake. This came to light after several months of IC'ing.

In our marriage, I never recognized this as conflict avoidance. I always just labeled my WH as being a pretty laid-back guy. The problem is when our loved ones avoid conflict to the point where it starts damaging the relationship and allows resentment to build. Resentment is what killed our M as we knew it. We would rarely fight and when we did it seemed as though there was never any real resolution.

Our MC has encouraged us to develop of a routine where we talk after our kids are in bed. The purpose of these talks is to encourage communication and say the hard things that he/we might have withheld before.

I would say adopt a policy of brutal honesty right now. You share with him your triggers and pain and allow him to do the same. Get to those root feelings even when it seems goofy at times. "When you did this, it made me feel like this..". It will be unnatural as first, but it really is necessary.

I think he needs to understand how his need for avoiding conflict actually hurts the relationship rather than helps it (as he no doubt is wired to think, i.e. I just don't want to fight about this issue; in reality if you fight, but then reached an agreement or consensus, the situation that was causing the conflict would not continue to build resentment). Point this out to him and try to have him provide examples of times when he avoided conflict and how it created more problems in your relationship.

A good IC should be able to help him work through this too.

shellbean posted 12/9/2017 05:45 AM

My WH is also conflict avoidant. WH has trouble communicating and expressing deep thoughts and feelings. In the year that we have been in counselling, he is learning how to communicate with me and now, does not avoid any conversations or situations that make him uncomfortable.

Is your SO in IC? If he's not, he really needs to be. He needs to learn how to stop this behavior.

You ask what you can do? If he is willing, when you are talking, ask him a lot of open ended questions that require more than a one word response. When he speaks, listen to him and don't interrupt, and try to maintain some calm. I know my WH gets upset when he sees me upset and then he tends to shut down. When I remain calm, he stays calm and is much more open to continuing the conversation.

IC for your SO really is a must; that is where he will gain the tools necessary to help himself. My IC asked me to start keeping a journal to write out my feelings. This is very helpful for me. Also, your SO might be able to express himself better in writing? Take turns writing questions in a notebook and then pass it off to each other. Then read the thoughts and exchange back and forth on paper. This was suggested to me by my IC as well. I told my WH about this and he seemed to really like the idea.

Good luck!

CWBS83 posted 12/9/2017 06:45 AM

My WH is a champion conflict avoider. It is so ingrained in him that after the first ONS he avoided dealing with it. He told me he wouldnít do it again and like I fool I bought it. He avoided talking about it and didnít want to feel bad about it so he decided the best way to escape was by having another ONS. Rinse repeat. Several ONS and an affair later we are here today. He is still avoiding like the plague. He will answer my questions but seems stuck in a spiral of shame that he does nothing to work on himself. He goes to IC but other that that wonít read a book or an article unless I ask him to. I stopped doing that because I was basically doing work to help someone that doesnít want to put in the work to help themselves.

Iíve always been the one to bring up reconciliation, ask to go to MC, tell him he should read, get on the forums etc. he will do it if I ask but thatís about it. I finally told him that I canít be the one initiating everything as if I am the one that cheated. He needed to decide whether he could be the kind of man that I deserve as a husband and the kids can look up to as a father. He turns it around and tells me he just doesnít think he can be what I need him to be, as if I am asking for a magical unicorn. I always just needed him to take the initiative and find books and read them, do some self reflection outside counseling, open up to me and be vulnerable, show me he loves me without me having to suggest what he can do. All things he doesnít seem to work on doing. So I pulled away to focus on myself because I know where this road leads. I know that as I do all the work we will surely be back here again. I canít handle more infidelity. Itís already stripped me of so much and I have 2 little angels that still need me. It has been difficult but I am doing my best to move on. I hope he has that aha moment before it is truly too late and I have 100% moved on, but Iím not going to sit around waiting for that seemingly elusive moment to ever happen. Iím focusing on myself, on my healing and growth.

Conflict avoiders now scare me. It is the biggest red flag for me. I always thought he was just a laid back guy. Now I see all along that it was my biggest red flag. He would rather divorce than deal with everything because he believes it would be easier. As if that will magically take care of the shame and he wonít be a serial cheater anymore. Be careful and make sure he is doing the work, not just going along with anything you say. He has to take initiative and want to work on himself otherwise he will resort to familiar unhealthy coping mechanisms. I wish you two luck and I hope for your sake as well as his own that he does the work to be a better husband and safe partner.

[This message edited by CWBS83 at 6:51 AM, December 9th (Saturday)]

Choosing24give posted 12/9/2017 20:07 PM

Thank you all for the incredibly thoughtful and helpful responses. I apologize for the delay. Itís been a crazy few days but I plan on responding to everything in depth tonight and continuing the conversation with you all. Just wanted to acknowledge the responses quickly in the mean time.

Calisi posted 12/9/2017 21:18 PM

I too am expressive and married to a conflict avoider. I also didn't know of his internal despair until it all came pouring out via infidelity and him leaving me behind in the remains of our old life. I've definitely had to work on patience with him but I have an immensely difficult time knowing when and where to draw the line. My MC told me I needed to work on letting go of some of the control I tend to have over trying to make him talk about his problems, but I'm finding that difficult given the outcome of that scenario last time.

This process is so difficult and confusing

[This message edited by Calisi at 9:19 PM, December 9th (Saturday)]

Choosing24give posted 12/9/2017 23:18 PM

Thanks again everyone for your replies. I have read each your responses multiple times and it has made me feel a lot less alone.

I've really been struggling with this notion of conflict avoidance. I just simply can't understand why anyone wouldn't voice their concerns or true feelings about something. I guess it just seems so counterintuitive to me.

Our therapist says it has a lot to do with upbringing. He says I'm a sobering voice and a realist and it's hard for folks who haven't been brought up the same way to realize that there are more productive ways to handle issues than to stuff them deep down inside until the resentment becomes unmanageable.

In one way this is comforting because it validates that I wasn't in the wrong for wanting to discuss issues in the past and that the reason we struggled working through issues wasn't my fault. It removed a ton of self doubt.

But, on the other hand, it is alarming and disheartening because I realize, as many of you have said, that it is up to him to make the change. I can support him and encourage him but I ultimately can't change him. It has to come from deep within himself. I pray that the fact that our whole life blew up and that he was on the cusp of completely losing everything we had built is enough to wake him up and incite change. We will see..

Our therapist holds him very accountable for his actions and is a no BS kinda guy. He pushes him to be as introspective as possible in our joint sessions and actually had my WBF deliver the news to me that he is in fact conflict avoidant (after a few individual sessions between the two of them).

I am trying to be very encouraging but at times I wonder if I am being too soft and if I need to draw a hard line in the sand? I realize this is not an issue he chooses to have which is why I am gentle about it in the first place. Note that I do know he did choose to cheat so there's that. I just worry that I'm hurting myself in the process. I guess I'm still on the rollercoaster... we're only 6 months out.

His entire family is conflict avoidant. They shielded him from real life issues his whole life and unfortunately as our therapist says I truly am the only sobering voice he has around him. I have been dating him since I am in high school and have seen him shielded from every day life things such as grandparents having surgeries, illnesses, etc. Things that would be so out in the open in my family were hidden from him in his family. He grew up with this picture of everything being rosy and if it wasn't rosy and more realistic his family jumped to the other extreme - it was a tragedy. There was no middle ground. Very black and white.

I really like what unhinged says:

Until he's willing and able to address the conflicts within himself that creates this emotion distance, he will never change.

In other words, you have to give him a conflict that he simply cannot avoid. As we say around here, if you want to save your marriage (relationship), you have to be willing to risk it's ruin.

I have plainly told him that he MUST kick this conflict avoidance stuff to the curb if we are to fully reconcile. We are supposed to have a larger conversation in the next few days. I want to be very firm about this and have been practicing my delivery. But to your point, unhinged, it is a risk and that risk does scare me. I'm not even going to lie. It is heartbreaking to have to deal with the realization of what he has done and it would be even more heartbreaking if he didn't put the wheels in motion to truly tackle and "fix" this issue.

To all those who said that at one point they thought their WH/WW was laid back -- I SECOND THAT. That was EXACTLY how I used to describe him. "Laid back, goes with the flow, balances me out because I can be rigid and a perfectionist.." Boy, was I wrong!!!

shellbean - I love the idea of the notebook. Thank you for that. I'll see if we can implement that.

Thanks again for all the advice and for hearing me out and sharing your POV and stories. Much appreciated!

Unhinged posted 12/10/2017 00:03 AM

Yeah... that was me. Laid back. Cooool. To some, aloof. Cold. To others, an ass.

I can remember everyone of the friends I've had over the years (decades) who have wanted to break me out of my 'shell.'

Shell? What shell?


Conflict avoidance isn't based upon fear. When pushed, I'm sure your WH will stand up for himself. (I hope so, anyway.) It's based upon a form of resignation, a form of 'quiet desperation.' We don't like it when others have conflicts with us. We don't like having conflicts with others. When in love, we're open and warm and eager to share. When challenged, we withdraw, retreat, and remind ourselves that 'I'm okay and you're okay.' There's no need for conflict. Just be cool. We all have our faults. We all forgive and move on, right? What is there to discuss?

When pressed to resolve a conflict, does your WH become angry? In order to express his feelings, to they have to be extreme?

It's hard to explain. I learned how to do it because I normalized that behavior as a kid. I was 10yo the first time I asked my mother why she didn't get a divorce (it was that obvious, even to a child). My parents were very good at building walls and sweeping just about everything they could under the rug.

What are these conflicts within? Deep shit, Choosing24give. Deep, deep, fucked-up shit he's ignored (avoided) his entire life.

I think a part of it is self-doubt. Not necessarily low self-esteem. Just doubt. Doubt that we are 'right.' Doubt that 'our truths' will heard, understood, empathized with, respected.

We can be very judgmental, assuming the worst in others, because that way, we can build more bricks to build more walls and not have to worry about any conflicts with people whom we've shut out of our lives. And that's what we do. We shut people out. But the most fucked-up thing of all is that we shut ourselves in.


Now, I'm trying to give you a little insight into what it's like to have conflict avoidant tendencies. By no means am I trying to justify infidelity or arouse sympathy for your WH.

This isn't why he had an affair, btw.

I think that tendencies to avoid conflict and build walls come from something else, something a bit deeper. Those tendencies are only coping mechanism; they are not the issue. That's just my opinion, of course, I'm not an psychologist.

At some point, whenever you think the time is right, ask him about it. Ask him about conflict, how it makes him feel, what does it mean to 'resolve it.' I doubt he'll have any real answers for you, at least not for a while.

I hope this thread stays active, because I know there are many members who will relate to it.

Keep challenging your WBF. Don't let up.

In the end, I had a 'good' reason for manufacturing every single one of those bricks, but the mortar that held it all together was always my own crap.

[This message edited by Unhinged at 12:08 AM, December 10th (Sunday)]

Choosing24give posted 12/10/2017 02:00 AM


A lot of what you're saying is resonating with me.

He does get angry when I press him to resolve a conflict. He has to be really, really angry about something to bring it up otherwise it's rare that he is angry UNLESS I am pushing him to express, to tell me what's on his mind, etc. The funny (or not so funny) thing is that I can ALWAYS tell when something is wrong. I instinctively know. But, getting him to admit something is actually wrong is like pulling teeth.

I appreciate the honesty that the conflicts within are likely from some deep, fucked up shit. I think I always had an inkling that despite his family life looking rosy that there are some deep rooted issues there. Until the revelation of his A we couldn't ever talk about it... not a surprise.

Therapy has started to put a spotlight on the family issues. I think this is why I am for us continuing to go to therapy together (although I do agree that he needs IC too even if it is with our therapist). It makes me feel hopeful to see him have breakthroughs, even if they are very, very small. They are still a "win".

Our therapist asked him how conflict makes him feel and what it does to him. He said it makes him feel overwhelmed and scared. We've conveyed to him that when he shuts down and shuts me out that it makes me feel like my feelings aren't being heard and that my emotional needs aren't being tended too.

We sort of do a cha-cha. He gets it. He has a revelation in the therapist's office. Then we take the conversation home, the feelings intensify as the conversation continues, and then BAM he goes all turtle in a shell on me. Then our "cycle", as our therapist calls it, begins again. I start poking and prodding for more. He clams up even more. I feel neglected and alone. Repeat.

I think the hardest part of this process, aside from dealing with the realization of what he did and all the pain and questions that comes with, is having to have patience with him while he works through this. I'm willing to do it but it is exhausting. Relinquishing control of the situation and the outcome of the situation is hard, too. Calisi mentioned this too.

sisoon posted 12/10/2017 11:49 AM

Conflict avoidance may be one thing one person can change in another, if ...

If you're CA, and your spouse keeps asking for what he wants and sometimes hearing 'no' without exploding the world, might the CA partner start asking for what she wants?

That's what seems to be happening for us. After a co-dependent lifetime, my W is learning to ask. She's not great at doing it yet, but it's such a pleasure to hear, even if I want to do something different from what she wants.

Well, that seems to be happening to us after years of therapy. Our MC is W's IC, so I know what her approach is. Her therapeutic metaphor is that we hear messages that attack ourselves, and we effect change by changing the messaging. That seems to be working for my W, and it worked for me some time ago (pre-A).

Also, my W's CA is an aspect of co-dependence, so it probably can be attacked by attacking co-d, too. Other therapeutic metaphors can probably work as well.

But it may have to start with the healthier partner saying something like, 'Look, you have to help me address this, because if it doesn't change, I'm eventually going to leave you.'

[This message edited by sisoon at 11:50 AM, December 10th (Sunday)]

CWBS83 posted 12/10/2017 12:12 PM

My WH is such a classic conflict avoider that when I said if things don't change I am going to leave all he said to me was that it might be better if we D. He would rather throw it all away that actually face his demons and work on our marriage. Conflict avoidance is such a trigger for me that if I ever meet a man that I think is laid back I will run for the hills. The person has to want to work to fix their conflict avoidance. Unfortunately you can't will them to do it. It sucks.

Choosing24give posted 12/10/2017 16:58 PM

sisoon - I'm really glad that approach is working for your W! I think you're right, I do need to say that it's time for him to work through this otherwise I will eventually leave. I really do not want to leave. Sometimes the conflict avoidance comes across as complete selfishness to me. I don't know whether or not to view it that way but either way it drives me nuts!

CWBS83 - sending you hugs and warm thoughts. I'm so sorry your WH is struggling to face the conflict avoidance issues.

Like your WH, my WBF is not actively seeking out books or articles specific to affair recovery and it does irk me greatly. I, too, have started focusing on myself more so than I have in the past.

My therapist says that this experience has been a watershed moment for me as I quickly kicked work/life balance issues, severe anxiety, an a glass half full attitude to the curb. I try very, very hard to make myself a better person for me first and foremost but to also try to motivate him to make changes too.

To your point, it is EXHAUSTING being the one to take initiative. It totally sucks. But, what I have noticed is that he takes initiative in other ways that I do not and I try to acknowledge that and use that as a sign of hope.

It's confusing. I find myself on the rollercoaster a lot, trying to objectively look at all of his actions and say to myself "OK is what he is doing showing me that he cares?" Sometimes, yes. Sometimes when the conflict avoidance rears it's head, no.

Unfortunately, overcoming the conflict avoidance is that only thing that will make me feel truly emotionally safe and connected with him, which is frustrating for him I suppose because he feels like all his other efforts that are not related to the conflict avoidance issue come up empty.


CWBS83 posted 12/12/2017 10:14 AM

My husband does some things to show he cares like helping out around the house even though he doesn't live here anymore. My problem is that I have told him the things I need from him. He did the little things that show he cared every DDay but still went back to cheating because him showing he cares in those ways wasn't him working on himself. I need to know that he is working on himself, I can't o through this again. I told him I needed him to be more emotionally vulnerable. Heck he has never asked for R. I always ask, so all the help around the house doesn't help the relationship.

I used to justify my reasons for staying by clinging onto any positive nugget. I have come to realize that I was doing myself a deservice. After infidelity they need to do more. I've been here before so many times I just can't settle for the little anymore. I hope your WH starts doing more. I wish you luck.

Idiotmcstupid posted 12/12/2017 10:27 AM

I also am an expressive type married to a wayward conflict avoider. I also thought that she was "laid back."
Well, that was wrong. She is anything but. She is a whirlwind of contradictions and anxiety.
And sitting back and hoping she decides to do the work to change is one of the most difficult things I've ever done. If I didn't have a kid I don't know that I'd do it, honestly.
But the worst has already happened. And I'm still here, alive and kicking. So if she doesn't figure it out then I'll move on. And if she does then I'll be here, and maybe we can make it work. Its going to be a very long process.
I plan on using the time for working on myself and becoming the best person I can be. And being a great father to my kid.

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