The Conflict-Avoiding Pattern

This is one of the patterns in the Conflict Dimension of the Pattern System.

Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. It isn’t beneficial to totally avoid conflict; you need to learn how to bring up and resolve disagreements in a healthy way. To the extent that you have a Conflict-Avoiding Pattern, you tend to sidestep dealing with normal conflict and confrontation.

When something is bothering you in your interactions with a person, you may try to ignore it or keep it to yourself out of worry about what might happen if you mention it. This will lead to problems in the long run. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should bring up every little thing that bothers you about every person you interact with. There will be small issues that aren’t worth mentioning. And there will be people you don’t interact with much with whom it wouldn’t be worth creating a conflict. There also may be people who are so aggressive and spiteful in the way they deal with conflict that it would not be prudent to inflame them. Also, some people are so easily upset by conflict that it wouldn’t be productive to confront them.

However, suppose you have important concerns in a relationship that means something to you and with a person who could handle them. It is important to bring them up.

Here are some other common ways of avoiding conflict. 

  • You ignore something that is bothering you.
  • You avoid bringing up something that is bothering you.
  • You bring up something but couch it in such a nice way that the person can’t even tell what you are upset about.
  • You frame it as your issue so as not to upset the person.

If you sense that a person is unhappy about something and is likely to confront you, how do you handle this? 

  • Do you go out of your way to avoid offending this person?
  • Do you try to please the person so he or she won’t bring it up?
  • Do you avoid interacting with the person at all and hope the issue will go away on its own?

When someone brings up a conflict with you, how do you respond? 

  • Do you change the subject or leave the situation in order to avoid dealing with it?
  • Do you freeze up and find yourself unable to communicate clearly?
  • Do you give in and accept the blame, even though you don’t believe you’re at fault, just so the confrontation will end?

To learn more about Patterns of Conflict in Relationships, please join us on May 6 for a free teleseminar.

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A Story of an Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern

This is the story of one person’s intimacy-avoiding pattern, one of the patterns in the Pattern System.

George isn’t happy about the lack of intimacy in his marriage with Kate. He doesn’t like that they seldom have sex. And yet, he doesn’t take action – he doesn’t talk with her about how he feels. Instead, he just lets his disappointment fester in hopes she’ll eventually pick up on the clues. And they don’t share anything else that is important to them, such as the struggles in their lives.

George has noticed they don’t go out on “dates”, and do fun things together, anymore. It is clear to George that Kate certainly has a Distancing Pattern. She tends to be depressed and withdrawn into herself – at least around him. So it is easy for George to point his finger at, and attribute their problems to her.

However, even though George says he wants more sex, sharing, and fun in the relationship, he doesn’t initiate them.

But George thinks he has a “good” excuse…

GEORGE: “I work long hours …okay, probably longer than I need to. But in today’s ify economy, I need to grab all the overtime hours I can get. Anyway, I often come home from work exhausted, and I don’t have any energy left for sex – or “sharing my feelings,” as Kate likes to say. So how am I supposed to initiate those things?”

Equal time is only fair, right?

Here’s what Kate has to say: KATE: “George almost always falls asleep right after dinner. He never suggests places for us to go, or things for us to do. He only complains about what we don’t have with each other. Even though he is clearly unhappy, he won’t initiate the closeness he says he wants.

He’s the male … He’s supposed to be the aggressor. So why does he expect me to take charge of the intimacy in our relationship?”

Of course, even if George found the energy, he might not act on it anyway, because of how much Kate has pulled back from him. In fact, their lack of intimacy is a long-standing dynamic in their relationship that they BOTH contribute to.

But for the moment, let’s focus on George’s part of the problem, his Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern:

GEORGE: “Okay, here’s the thing: I’m aware that I’m afraid of being rejected by Kate. Because when I do initiate sex, she often isn’t interested … and that hurts me.”

For a while, that was the only reason George knew of for avoiding reaching out for intimacy. Then George sought therapy, where he started exploring the deeper issues behind this pattern. He soon discovered that he had other fears that went back to his relationship with his mother:

GEORGE: “My mother tended to be intrusive and controlling, so I associated that with being close to a woman. A part of me is now afraid of intimacy, because I believe that means I’ll be smothered and controlled by any woman I am close to. This belief keeps me from acting on my desire for intimacy with Kate.”

In addition, George’s mother was worried and anxious much of the time during his childhood, and when George got close to her, her anxiety spilled over onto him, and he became anxious, too. So naturally, he didn’t want this to happen. As a result, a part of George now believes that intimacy will lead to him being flooded by a woman’s anxiety, and this is keeping him distant from Kate.