The Marriage.com Editorial Team is a group of experienced relationship writers, experts, and mental health professionals. We provide practical and research-backed advice on relationships. Our content is thoroughly reviewed by experts to ensure that we offer high-quality and reliable relationship advice.
All relationships involve conflict or disagreements from time to time, but some people may try to avoid conflict in order to keep the peace. Ultimately, this leads to even more problems, as conflict avoidance causes issues to persist and can lead the conflict avoider to resent their partner. Below, learn how to overcome conflict avoidance to improve your relationships.
Conflict avoidance in relationships
So, what is the avoidance conflict style? It might be best described as a fear of conflict. People with this conflict management style are typically people pleasers who fear upsetting others and want to be liked.
To maintain harmony in their relationships, people with the avoidance conflict management style do not speak up when upset or unmet their needs. They may remain silent when they are upset or deny that there is a problem, even when it is evident that there is conflict. Furthermore, they may suffer through situations that make them unhappy or uncomfortable simply because they fear confrontation in relationships.
People who are known for avoiding conflict in relationships may seem easy-going and pleasant, but ultimately, conflict avoidance comes with a price. Conflict avoidance in relationships may minimize conflict over the short term, but over the long run, it causes conflict to persist because it is never addressed.
Avoidance is never an effective conflict style because it results in you withdrawing from your partner, distancing yourself, and even refusing to discuss points of contention. A healthier conflict style involves: accepting responsibility for your contribution to the problem, working toward problem-solving, and considering your partner’s point of view.
Learn more about problems associated with fear of conflict here:
How to overcome conflict avoidance: 23 tips
Learning how to overcome conflict avoidance can lead to happier relationships because you’ll have better conflict resolution skills and be able to speak up so that your needs are met. You’ll no longer have to silence yourself or experience extreme anxiety and fear of confrontation.
So, what can you do to learn how to stop being afraid of confrontation? Consider some of the strategies below.
1. Reframe the way you think about conflict
Conflict avoidance may result from how you perceive conflict in relationships. For instance, if you believe that all conflict is harmful or will lead to the breakdown of your relationship, you are more likely to avoid it.
Suppose you can reframe your thoughts on conflict and recognize it as a necessary part of compromising and building a successful relationship. In that case, you’ll be more comfortable approaching areas of concern or disagreement with your partner. Understand that conflict is normal; it’s necessary and can bring you closer to your partner when resolved in a healthy fashion.
2. Recognize that it doesn’t have to be a fight
You may avoid confrontation because you imagine it will go poorly or lead to a full-blown fight, but this doesn’t have to be the case. You can express disagreement calmly and respectfully, to address an issue without starting a fight.
3. Address conflict early
When you have a fear of conflict, you likely tend to put off discussing disagreements until the issue has become so large that it is now an enormous fight rather than a minor disagreement that could have been resolved. If you speak up as soon as there is an issue, you’ll find that conflict is easier to manage and learn that conflict doesn’t have to be so scary.
4. Reflect on the consequences of avoiding conflict
You avoid conflict because it serves the purpose of protecting you from something you fear. This is the benefit of conflict avoidance for you, but what are the drawbacks? Think about all the times you have experienced adverse outcomes from conflict management.
Maybe you’ve developed a disdain for your significant other because you kept quiet about something that bothered you for so long. Or, perhaps, you begin to feel anxious and depressed because you aren’t expressing your needs in your relationship.
Taking a look at the negative effects of conflict avoidance can motivate you to make some changes.
5. Explore the underlying reasons for conflict avoidance
Avoiding conflict usually means you have some underlying fear. It may be fear of losing your significant other, fear of expressing anger, or fear of being negatively judged. Explore these underlying fears. Once you acknowledge them, they’ll have less power over you.
6. Practice talking about your emotions
Conflict is typically emotional. One or both people may feel sad, angry, or frustrated. For people who have a fear of confrontation in relationships, what they are fearful of is big emotions.
To get more comfortable with your emotions, practice discussing them daily. This can look like telling your partner things you’re grateful for, sharing how you felt about something that happened at work or acknowledging your emotional reaction to a movie.
When you practice discussing your emotions in daily life, you’ll be better prepared to do so during times of conflict.
7. Learn about healthy conflict management
If you’re fearful of conflict, it might be that you have only experienced unhealthy conflict resolution styles. Maybe you grew up in a home where conflict meant yelling, screaming, and name-calling.
In this case, you can become more comfortable with conflict by learning how to resolve disagreements healthily. Gottman’s couples therapy principles are helpful in learning how to overcome conflict avoidance and use healthy conflict management strategies.
Gottman recommends that couples avoid criticism, blame, and defensiveness during conflict and approach issues softly and validate each other’s concerns. Research shows that these principles effectively improve marital satisfaction and reduce marriage problems.
8. Understand that conflict avoidance creates superficial harmony
Below the surface, you are likely unhappy and internally suffering because you aren’t voicing your needs.
With effective conflict resolution, you can learn to create true harmony in your relationships.
9. Focus on solutions
When conflict is all about criticism and pointing fingers, it usually isn’t productive. Overcome your fear of conflict by approaching issues with solutions.
For instance, if you’re upset that you and your partner aren’t spending much time together, you could suggest that the two of you plan a weekly date night, or schedule one evening a week where you go for a walk, or watch a show, with phones turned off.
Having solutions in mind prevents conflict from becoming a back-and-forth argument and can make disagreements less heated, so you’ll be more comfortable with conflict management.
10. Do a little planning
If you’d like to discuss a source of conflict with your partner, you can calm your nerves with some planning. Think about what you want to say and how you’ll start the conversation.
Practice starting the conversation in a non-confrontational manner, and make a list of points you’d like to cover during the discussion.
11. Have a weekly meeting with your partner
One way to prevent conflicts from festering and becoming unmanageable is to have a weekly “state of the union” meeting with your significant other.
This is when the two of you can sit down, discuss things that are going well, and work through areas that need improvement.
This meeting can help you to tackle conflicts head-on in the early stages, so disagreements don’t lead to fights. Over time, you’ll learn that conflict management can be beneficial and enjoyable rather than frightening.
12. Learn self-calming strategies
Confrontation avoidance can develop because of the body’s physiological reaction to stress. If you view confrontation in a negative light, you may be overly physiologically aroused during times of conflict.
You may notice symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and sweaty palms.
Over time, this physiological reaction can cause you to avoid conflict altogether because you don’t want to experience these symptoms.
To resolve this cause of conflict avoidance, learn some self-calming strategies. You might try meditation, practicing a positive mantra, praying, or using a grounding technique.
13. List what you can learn from how to overcome conflict avoidance
Jumping into the unknown territory of learning to confront conflict can be scary, but when you think about the benefits, you’ll be more motivated to overcome your fear.
Think about what you could gain: increased confidence, closeness with your partner, or more meaningful relationships.
14. Think about the task at hand.
If you view conflict as a task to be completed rather than something to be fearful of, you can remove some negative emotions from confrontation. For instance, instead of telling yourself that you’re going to argue about finances, tell yourself that you’re going to complete the task of creating a budget with your partner.
Viewing conflict in a task-orientated light, rather than as an emotional experience, can take some of the pressure off and alleviate your fears.
15. Stop assuming the worst
In some cases, conflict avoidance occurs because we always assume the worst during times of disagreement. We imagine that approaching an issue with our partner will result in a terrible argument, a screaming match, or maybe even a relationship breakup.
Instead of assuming the worst, imagine the opposite. What if addressing the issue leads to a productive conversation? Considering the fact that conflict resolution may go well can decrease your anxiety.
16. Take steps to increase your self-esteem
Conflict avoidance can sometimes occur because of low self-esteem. If you feel you don’t deserve to meet your needs, you won’t speak up about things that bother you. Increasing your self-esteem, by focusing on your strengths, practicing positive self-affirmations, and taking time for self-care, can make you more confident about approaching conflict.
17. Talk with someone supportive
If you’re struggling with conflict avoidance, talking with a trusted friend or relative can help you to process the issue. People who love you can provide support and a rational viewpoint, encouraging you to stand up for yourself.
18. Exercise your right to take a break
Conflict can become extremely overwhelming for some people, so they avoid it altogether. Instead of conflict avoidance, get in the habit of taking a break when conflict becomes too much.
If you’re in the midst of an argument and things get too heated, ask your partner if you can take a break and resume the conversation at a later time. When you get into this habit, you will recognize that conflict doesn’t have to be scary because you can take time to cool down if it becomes too much to handle.
19. Express your fear to your partner
If you’re struggling with fear of confrontation, you do not have to suffer in silence. Opening up to your partner and being vulnerable can increase your intimacy and develop a stronger sense of understanding between the two of you.
Sit down with your partner and explain that you have some difficulty with conflict and that you could use their help in managing disagreements. When your partner is understanding of your fears, they will be more mindful of this during disagreements, which can help you to overcome your anxiety.
20. Practice setting boundaries
People pleasing and conflict avoidance often go hand-in-hand. People pleasing is also associated with poor boundaries, which involves sacrificing your own needs for the sake of others, having a hard time saying no, and exhausting yourself trying to make others happy.
If this sounds like you, you can develop greater confidence about conflict resolution by setting boundaries.
Practice saying no to commitments that you aren’t excited about, and don’t be afraid to stand up for your needs or take time for yourself. Once these things become a habit, conflict avoidance may begin to take care of itself.
21. Assert yourself
Similar to setting boundaries, practicing assertive communication can help you to resolve conflict more effectively. Practice asserting yourself with statements such as, “I feel…” or, “My experience is that….” When you develop assertiveness skills, conflict resolution is easier and becomes less anxiety-provoking.
22. Remind yourself that you cannot control other people
Conflict avoiders may silence their opinions to please other people. They think that if they keep their opinions and needs to themselves, others will like them.
Remember you ultimately have no control over other people or how they feel about you. Someone who loves you will still love you, even if you voice your needs or express an opinion that is different from theirs.
21. Don’t assume you can read your partner’s mind
The avoidance conflict style is perpetuated when you feel that you can read your partner’s mind. You decide in advance that they will react poorly or disagree with you, so you avoid the conflict altogether.
Instead of trying to read your partner’s mind, be open to a discussion. You may even learn that your partner is on the same page as you.
22. Evaluate irrational thoughts
Avoiding conflict in relationships can be a result of irrational thinking patterns. For example, you may believe that conflict will immediately lead to a breakup or that you do not have a right to express yourself.
Explore the thoughts you have about conflict. What evidence do you have that these thoughts are valid? Chances are that you are engaging in some irrational thought patterns that lead to fear of conflict.
23. Explore your childhood
Most of what we learn about relationships, love, and conflict comes from what we have observed growing up, by watching our parents and other important adults in our lives.
If we observe healthy conflict resolution, we’ll be more likely to practice effective conflict management as adults.
On the other hand, if we witness conflict avoidance or other forms of unhealthy conflict resolution, our ideas about conflict management will be skewed. We may feel that conflict should be avoided, or we may be fearful of conflict because we witnessed toxic levels of conflict growing up.
If this is the case, you might take some time to self-reflect on the root causes of your conflict avoidance. If it stems from childhood issues, you may be able to do some of your healing work.
Or, you might benefit from reaching out to a counselor or therapist to help you overcome childhood issues that have led to fear of confrontation in relationships.
If you’re avoiding conflict in relationships, it may be because this is a habit or learned behavior. In this case, you may be able to resolve the issue with some of the strategies discussed here.
Changing the way you view conflict can help you learn how to overcome conflict avoidance.
On the other hand, if it is challenging for you to resolve your fear of conflict, your avoidance of conflict style may result from childhood attachment issues or another unresolved issue.
In this case, you may benefit from working with a counselor or therapist to help determine the underlying causes of conflict avoidance and develop strategies for addressing these issues.
The Marriage.com Editorial Team is a group of experienced relationship writers, experts, and mental health professionals. We provide practical and research-backed advice on relationships. Our content is thoroughly reviewed by experts Read more to ensure that we offer high-quality and reliable relationship advice. Read less
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