Any occasion when you find yourself in a disagreement with another person, it can feel stressful on some level. Whether it is over someone eating the last of the salsa in the fridge or someone dinged your car with their door, the problems being sorted through can cause additional social problems with the person you are arguing with.
If that person is someone that you are married to, avoiding the conflict or a series of conflicts can lead to a breakdown of trust, resulting in a divorce.
According to The Huffington Post, the number one predictor of divorce is conflict avoidance. For many couples, approaching difficult conversations never end the way one or both spouses would like, so they try to avoid them.
This strategy is due to the faulty ways that individuals approach a conflict. Sometimes, one spouse could come in too hot and come off as insulting or accusatory. Emotions cloud judgments, and the words that are used often fall flat or make things worse.
In other paradigms, such as a boss-employee dynamic, when leadership avoids conflict, communication becomes strained, productivity suffers, and teamwork is diminished, weakening the overall brand.
In marriages, the brand is the relationship. Studies published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology examined communication patterns and conflicts over psychological distance among nondistressed, clinic, and divorcing couples and found that the clinic and divorcing couples had much less constructive communication, more avoidance of communication, more withdrawn communication, and more conflict over the psychological distance in their relationship.
A study published in “Personal Relationships” by the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research examined whether close relationship experiences predicted change in an individuals’ attachment characteristics.
They found that women who were low in conflict avoidance became more secure over time, and those high in conflict avoidance became less secure. For men whose relationship remained intact, conflict avoidance was not related to changes in attachment characteristics, but for men whose relationship has ended, initial conflict avoidance predicted increased attachment security.
Being attached to the person you are in a relationship with is not something to be ashamed of, but when you are avoiding discussing a potentially divisive topic with your significant other because you do not want to lose them, you are avoiding conflict and putting the viability of communication in your relationship at risk.
Looking in the mirror
When it gets to the point of a divorce, many look to interpret the causes of the end of the marriage. If infidelity, abuse, negligent behavior, or some other type of negative circumstance is not present, they may look to make sense of the situation, in order to achieve a level of emotional closure and move on with their lives.
In order to do that, they have to analyze the interactions with the opposite spouse that led them to become so far apart. For many, that was simply not paying attention to each other.
The act of not paying attention is not something that happens on one side at all times. Sometimes, when a couple has deep conflicting feelings, or has simply been together for a long time, they bury the need to pay attention to what the other is saying, how the other is responding to what is being said, and how they are behaving.
Costs and benefits of addressing conflict
For others, they look at the costs and benefits of addressing conflict in the relationship and decide that the goal of resolution is not worth the cost of conflict itself, according to “What Predicts Divorce?” by John Mordechai Gottman.
Couples that are conflict avoidant are not as self-disclosing with one another. If both sides are avoiding conflict, each individual sees the act of engaging in conflict as a characteristic of their interactions as a whole, and in order to avoid admitting that their relationship is not at its healthiest, they avoid the topics of conflict altogether.
Just because you may avoid discussing the issues that you may conflict about, it does not mean that the issues go away. The issues build on one another, harming relationships from the inside out, until the only healthy option is to examine the viability of the marriage.
Because of the inherent nature of the institution of divorce, conflict will arise during the experience, and you, as a divorcing party, cannot afford to still be avoiding conflict in the same fashion as was present during the marriage. You cannot avoid asking for what you want, and you cannot avoid saying no. Your financial future and the future of any children that you may have is at stake, and by not allowing your attorney to say ‘no’, in order to avoid conflict with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, you are actively acting in detriment to your own case.
In future relationships, it is important to avoid the level of conflict avoidance that was present in your marriage. In order to achieve this, seeking professional assistance may be beneficial in order to encourage a healthier and more communicative state.
Open communication after the trauma of divorce is important, because it allows your strained emotional state to breathe. You are able to express everything that was bothering you and understand why sharing these things is so beneficial. It allows you the opportunity to create a better you, so that way you can forge healthier and stronger relationships moving forward.