Conflict Resolution, Part 1:

The Full Rundown on Avoidance and Fighting Like a Man

Every relationship will experience quarrels. Each has their own way of dealing with confrontation whether or not you realize it.

Mediators and therapists have a name for it: Conflict Resolution style. In layman terms, fighting style. This series will talk about all sorts of aspects relating to how to get past conflicts.

Sorry Fight Club, we’re breaking the rules. We’re gonna talk all about it.

What Is a Fighting Style?

In this instance, your fighting style, which is subject to change, is how you react to confrontation. In terms of your marriage, it’s the way you respond to the words and actions of your spouse. There are tons of studies on personality types and conflict style, but it all boils down to your choice.

It’s the way you respond to the words and actions of your spouse. There are tons of studies on personality types and conflict style, but it all boils down to your choice.

You learn how to argue. Everyone has had one of those moments, mid-argument, where you say something and realize, “Oh, jeez, I’m turning into my parents.” That’s because on some level you developed behaviors based on what you were exposed to.

How Are These Categorized?

If you Google “conflict resolution style,” your top 10 (at least) results would be based on the research of Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann. They’ve spent 40 years honing their system and are the leading authority on the matter.

Here’s what their model looks like:

The TKI model measures one’s assertiveness against one’s cooperativeness. The result? Five categories of fighting styles. Just remember that you can use any one of those at any time, but most people develop into one main style that they use nearly all the time.

Today we are taking a deep dive into Avoidance!

Avoidance: The First of Five Styles

Where it lands on the scale:

The avoiding style is low in assertiveness and low in cooperativeness. Essentially they not only don’t care about your needs, but they also don’t care about their own. They will do anything to avoid a confrontation. Aptly named, don’t you think?

It’s widely considered a poor choice for settling a disagreement. However, there are some instances where it’s recommended.

Characteristics of Avoiders:

In general, avoiders tend to have low self-esteem. This isn’t always true, though. My husband, for instance, has very high self-esteem, but he will do anything (within reason) to keep the peace and veer away from a fight. It’s just who he is – most of the time anyway.

Most frequently they will assert that the topic is too unimportant or time-consuming to have a disagreement over. There are plenty of times that this may very well be the case.

Some other behaviors you may see in an avoider include using humor to make their partner “forget” the topic, changing the topic to something unrelated, or asking to have the discussion later. The goal of all of these is to bury it under the rug.

Effects of Avoidance tendencies:

Frequent avoidance will lead to one of you harboring resentful feelings. Either the avoider will resent their partner for “nagging” or “pushing buttons” when they try to have the same discussion again or the avoiders partner will resent them for ignoring the needs of the relationship.

Losing closeness to a partner is HUGE issue for avoiders. Ever have a friend that says “Let’s meet up soon!” but never follows through with it? Over time, you end feeling like that person doesn’t want to meet up and that they just don’t care about you. The same thing happens if you avoid a conflict for too long.

If your issues never get resolved, you can experience a build up. Herein lies the danger. The buildup of tension will lead to an explosion of hurt feelings and things you shouldn’t have said.

That said, there are some good effects of avoiding conflict. For instance, your relationship doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Remember how my husband leans towards avoiding? It’s sometimes the best thing for our relationship, because does it really matter how you put the dishes in the dishwasher? (For the record, YES, I think it does, but I’ll save you my rant)

The key is know when you should or shouldn’t avoid an issue.

To Use or Not to Use

Scenario 1

Let’s go ahead and use my dishwasher story- Your wife has a system for loading the dishwasher, that she claims results in cleaner dishes. You don’t care how the dishes go in there, because with the push of a button they all get cleaned. You offer to do the dishes after she’s had a long day, but she isn’t thrilled with that idea since you probably won’t load the dishes her way. After assuring her that they will all get clean, she begins to get frustrated with you. Your response is a classic avoider standby, “is it that big of a deal anyway?”

In an instance like this, it’s 100% okay to use avoiding tactics. Why? Because it’s not a topic that should make or break your relationship. Let’s look at when NOT to use avoiding behaviors.

Scenario 2

Once again, you come home to your wife being upset over how little time you have been setting aside for the family. You work hard during the week, so you want to play hard on the weekends. You went to happy hour on Friday afternoon and ended up making plans to go golfing on Saturday and Sunday, even though she had already asked to have a family weekend. When she hears that you’ve made plans that exclude her and your kids she is not happy. She begins to confront you, and again you respond with “what’s the big deal? Can we just talk about it later?”

What you have essentially done is communicate that her needs and emotions aren’t valid and aren’t important enough to be discussed. Remember those negative effects we talked about?

Strategies to Improve Your Fighting Technique

As I said before, the key is knowing when to avoid and when not to. When a tense subject arises it’s best to follow these step:

  1. Assess the situation- Is it important to the other person? Will avoiding it cause more issues later? If so then you need to have the fight.
  2. Plan your behavior carefully- figure out the best way to address this problem without aggravating the situation. This really does only take a few seconds to determine, so don’t think about putting off the argument.
  3. Act accordingly- follow through is the most important thing here. For example, scenario 2 could have been resolved quickly by hearing the wife’s concerns and addressing them with a thoughtful answer. Bonus points if he made a suggestion for a date night Saturday evening.

Extra Resources

If a problem has grown beyond something you feel you and your partner can sort out on your own, fear not! It may be worth it to meet with an expert. Mediators specialize in hearing both sides of an argument and suggesting action accordingly.

Therapists are a good option if you want to get down to the root cause of some of your biggest arguments. Even making the suggestion to get extra help is a step in the right direction!

Conclusion

To sum it all up, avoidance tactics have their place in a relationship but overall they tend to lead to bigger issues. A little effort will go a long way in terms of maintaining a harmonious relationship. If you or your partner is an avoider, there are several ways to improve your overall communication with displays of attentiveness and consideration.

Stay tune, Next week we’ll be looking at conflict resolution from the perspective of Accommodators!

Photo Credit: Split Second Sparring Capture via photopin (license)

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