You probably know people who “don’t do conflict.” They are conflict-avoidant and either divert the conversation or excuse themselves physically because they sense conflict is imminent. Why do they avoid conflict and how could engaging in a conflictual conversation actually help them?
Here are some reasons why people avoid conflict:
- Family-of-Origin. People often avoid conflict because they saw the results of conflict between their parents or their parents and others in the family and it was not pretty. Their parents had verbal (and possibly physical) fights and they purposed that when they become adults they would never do that.
- Fear. Probably the most common reason people avoid conflict is fear. They are afraid of losing control of themselves and doing or saying something they’ll regret or they’re afraid of the other person losing control and emotionally or physically hurting them.
- Emotionality. Some people avoid conflict because it would require them to become emotional and they have trained themselves to keep their emotions in check at all times. They are stoics and keep themselves above the fray.
- Honesty. Many people avoid conflict because conflict will force them to become honest and have to face issues affecting the relationship. In their minds it’s easier not to face the issues by avoiding any and all conflict. Uncomfortable truth may come to light which might change the relationship. Conflict would bring that out so it must be avoided.
- Immaturity. Some people simply haven’t matured to the point where they can handle conflict. Like children, they want their way and cannot handle being told “no” or that they’re wrong so they avoid conflict.
Conflict is a normal part of all relationships. We differ from one another in our thinking, education, opinions, values, and families-of-origin. We celebrate those differences because they make us unique, one-of-a-kind people. Those differences also can cause sparks in relationships. The problem is not conflict in and of itself but rather how we handle conflict. Conflict can cause us to grow in our relationships or it can cause harm. Dr. Les Parrott puts it this way, “Conflict is such an important part of the marriage relationship, and it’s unavoidable. It is the price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy. Fighting a good fight can bring you closer together as partners–you’ll walk through some troubled times together and come out on the other side, more connected than ever.” (https://www.symbis.com, 5 Tips for Fighting Well with Your Spouse, July 7, 2015). Did you catch that? Conflict is the “price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy.”
If you and I would have deeper intimacy with our spouses, our children, our parents, and others we must be willing to tolerate occasional conflict. If we don’t we doom our relationships to being shallow and superficial. One pastor has defined intimacy as “into me see.” By that he means, “look inside me. See my heart. I want to be transparent and vulnerable with you.” Conflict embracers have learned the secret to intimacy. Next month I’ll write on how to handle conflict positively and reap the rewards of greater intimacy.
Jesus never avoided conflict,