Here, RD&T contributing authors Linda and Charlie Bloom discuss recovery from being conflict avoidant.
The Route to Recovery
Try to keep in mind that being a conflict avoider is nothing to be ashamed of, that the majority of people have issues with conflict – even those who attempt to intimidate others with threats and aggression. They are just dealing with their fear differently than you are.
Practice self-forgiveness for all the times that you have judged or punished yourself in some way because you felt ashamed or weak.
Forgive others whom you have harbored resentment towards or punished by direct or passive means.
Tell yourself the truth
Compile a list of people in your life, starting with the most important relationships, with whom you have failed to be truthful or have withheld your feelings for – and in doing so have accumulated resentment that has contributed to a diminishing of trust and respect in your relationships -and make a list of specific resentments that you have toward each person.
Give yourself permission to feel the resentment, anger, outrage, or whatever other feelings that you have not permitted yourself to fully experience, and identify the fear that kept you from feeling them.
Take responsibility for your part in the creation of your conflict-phobia by withholding your true feelings from yourself and others. Taking responsibility for your part does not relieve others of their responsibility; it merely reminds you that both of you have played your part in creating this system.
Talk with your partner
Invite your partner to join you in a conversation about “some things that I’ve been needing to talk to you about for a while, but I’ve been putting off.”
Note: You need not use these words, but try to issue the invitation as a request rather than a demand or threat. The tone of your words is more important than the words themselves. Keep in mind that your partner is probably much more anxious or fearful of conflict than you may have believed.
Take a respectful stand
If your partner wants to know more about just exactly what it is that you want to talk about, don’t go into any specifics, but speak in general terms, such as, “I’ve been having some ideas about some things that we could do that might help us to make our relationship even better than it is.” If your partner insists on more detail, this is your golden opportunity to let him or her know that you prefer not to get into it now, but to wait until you can both put aside more time to give this conversation the time that it deserves.
If your partner insists on extracting more information from you, ask him or her to please respect your preference and see if you can come to a time agreement. If he or she persists in an effort to break down your resistance, try to avoid getting angry or overheated. Let your partner know that this just isn’t a good time to get started on it, and ask him or her to please respect and accept your feelings.
Let your partner know that you’ve recently realized that you have something to apologize for. That should get some attention. Go on to explain that you haven’t been completely honest with him or her about some of your feelings, concerns, and needs, and you want to come clean about that.
Declare your intention
Declare your intention to clean up the difficulties that your withholding has caused. Ask your partner if it’s OK for you to give some examples. If he/she says yes, then try to express them without judgment of your partner. If your partner gets defensive or tries to correct you or justify him/herself, politely request that your partner gives you a chance to finish with the example that you’re offering, and then you’ll be happy to hear a response.
Thank your partner
When the time comes for you to have “the talk,” thank your partner for joining you in your efforts to enhance the quality of your relationship.
Admittedly, this is a process that will require more conversations regardless of how well the first one goes or doesn’t go. But with gentle and committed persistence, defensive patterns, even those that have been in place for years or decades, can be eroded and replaced with interactive patterns that can transform the most deadlocked stalemate.
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