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Fight or Flight? How to Overcome Fear of Conflict

In our day to day lives, you might find yourself having an argument or maybe disagreeing with others, but do you find that whenever possible, you avoid conflict? Do you back away from a potential argument or fight or let someone else win an argument when you don’t want to? Do you repeatedly put someone else's needs over yours? While it can be healthy to avoid arguments that are unnecessary, sometimes conflict is key to making progress or accomplishing goals.

Most of us, aside from maybe some politicians or talking heads on television, do not enjoy fighting with one another. But while it can be healthy to avoid unnecessary arguments, avoiding disagreements altogether can prevent us from having our needs met or getting what we want. For example, if it is important to you that your partner let you know if he or she will be late in getting home, do you express that need? Or do you keep it to yourself and feel quietly angry with them when they get home late without having called? If the second is true, do you take it out on them passively and avoid talking about it with them? You might very well feel dismissed, even though you have not given your partner a chance to meet your need. How does that affect your feelings for your partner over the long term? Do you resent your partner for that behavior?

Resentment, if allowed to build up over time, can affect your relationships. Even if you started off avoiding conflict and passively taking out your anger on your partner, letting that resentment build can lead to you punishing your partner with a cold shoulder, or even with explosive anger. Without having expressed your original need, however, your partner may be confused and surprised by your behavior. After all, neither you nor your partner are mind readers, and how would your partner know to change their behavior without having been told it was upsetting to you? Communication of wants and needs is deeply important in a relationship, and sometimes that means arguing with your partner to get those needs met.

To stop avoiding conflict and start expressing your needs, first be aware of your own desires. Some of us have been brought up to dismiss our needs and prioritize others' needs, so much so that we do not recognize our own desires. Be mindful of this; if you see that you resent your partner, try to look back, identify what happened to make you angry, and communicate your unmet need. As you become more aware of your needs, you may find it easier to communicate them even when an argument with your partner occurs.

With this new awareness, you can practice asking for what you want. To use our previous example, if your partner is going out for a business dinner, ask your partner directly to let you know if he or she will be home later than expected. Practicing this direct communication will remind you that it's safe to ask for what you want, and that you deserve to have your needs met just as much as you meet your partner's needs. Feeling that confidence can give you the strength you need to confront issues as they come up and not back down.  

This month, we at K&S Therapeutic Services encourage you to identify at least one thing you want from your partner, friend, or family member, and ask them directly for it. It might be scary, but in the end you will get what you want!