Written by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng
Image by anaterate @ pixabay
When we are conflict avoidant, we fear two things:
1) We might lose the relationship (thus losing altogether the person we care about).
2) We might hurt the person we care about (thus hurting the relationship that we really want to keep).
Whilst there is probably some truth in what we fear, we often forget a deeper truth underlying our fears… And that’s LOVE! We really, truly LOVE the person and the relationship! Point to note though: this is notwithstanding violent or abusive relationships where there is a real threat to someone’s life or safety, whenever conflict arises. The main difference is: abusive relationships would cause harm to seek submission or maintain power control, whereas conflict-avoidant relationships seek to protect the other from harm or shield the relationship from being tested.
If it’s a one year old relationship, it’s probably good and necessary to be protective. If it’s a 3 year old relationship, it might still work. But if the relationship is 10 years or older, protecting and shielding might actually stunt its natural growth. That’s why teenagers get edgy and feisty. They feel safe enough to fight their parents now.
All good parents instinctively know (or learn from painful mistakes) that as much as they want to protect their child from suffering, they have to let their child endure some pain from his/her own choices. Both parties have to endure the trials of fire in their relationship, where there is mistrust, betrayal, grief and disappointment.
And when emotional distress cannot be outwardly expressed, it can become trapped inside the body and manifest as psychosomatic symptoms. Hence, whenever we see a family that’s conflict avoidant, we typically see some psychosomatic symptoms in one or more members in the family (eg. unexplainable aches and pains, allergies and weak immune system, neurological and sexual dysfunctions etc.).
So what do we do, if we don’t want to become psychosomatic and we don’t want to be conflict avoidant?
You can start by changing your beliefs: about yourself, your beloved, and the relationship that you both share. Can you imagine telling yourself these:
1) I can lose this relationship and still be okay.
2) I can hurt my beloved and still be accepted.
How do you feel reading these two affirmations? The conflict avoidant part of me feels so nervous that makes me want to check out from my body, switch off my computer and go back to sleep!
A family therapist friend of mine used the sport of Sumo to describe what makes a good fight. When I think about Sumo, I think about 2 naked people (almost, not completely, otherwise they may be too distracted to fight), both very big and equally powerful, and they both stand on their grounds firmly and see who can make the other fall out or lose their ground first. Of course it hurts the pride of the one who falls, but all is done in the spirit of good sports. It is not premeditated murder or out-of-control violence. It is still an aggressive sports, even though you may not always see the blood, the broken bones and the bruises.
So why do we still want to do it?
Well, because it matters! This particular relationship and this person matters enough that you would want to go beyond your own comfort zone to BE with the person. And part of the experience is to BE in conflict.
#1 This means, to risk losing the old relationship, so that something new can emerge. And if you don’t allow death and renewal in your existing relationship, one (or both) of you will go outside the relationship to seek the new, which can be with one of your adorable or vulnerable child (who needs and wants your attention), a more understanding or tender partner (who offers you what you miss and desire in an intimate relationship), a more exciting job or hobby (which keeps your mind occupied so you don’t need to think about your current intimacy problems).
#2 This also means, to be willing to get hurt yourself, knowing that you will have to hurt the one you love, by telling the necessary truth. He/she may be shock and upset with you for a while. He/she may never recover or accept you back. But at least it’s an authentic relationship. To cover up or to tell half-truths may prolong the harmonious relationship, but it gets tiring, boring and unreal. You know it, he or she knows it, perceptive people around you both will eventually know it.
Inevitably, psychosomatic symptoms serve a protective function: to provide an outlet for the internal tension that’s building up. Truth is, until and unless we feel secure enough in our relationship, it’s really much easier to focus on the physical pain and illness, than to sit and talk about what’s not working in the relationship and what you and I need from each other.
Dear friends, this is not an encouragement to go home and fight with your spouse, parent or someone you care about. It is, however, an invitation to examine ourselves why we are refraining from certain conversation that we know we need to have. Funny thing is: the more significant a person is to you, the harder it is to speak sometimes.
American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If you can’t fly, run. if you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. No matter what, keep moving forward.”
What is one little conversation you can start having with your beloved to move your relationship forward?
Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s Sumo ♥