There is a wealth of evidence that having close, loving relationships is crucial to our well-being and happiness. Researchers have found that people with strong social connections have less stress-related health problems, a lower risk of mental illness, and faster recovery from trauma or illness. Regardless of whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert, people are happier generally when they are with other people than when they are alone.
Being in a close relationship with someone means you love that person and care about her well-being. You feel comfortable being yourself around her. You confide important things to her and can turn to her for help. You feel a strong connection with her and enjoy spending time with her.
Another big indicator of closeness is how we deal with conflict. Family scientists at the University of Kentucky studying this concluded that how people dealt with conflict among their siblings growing up was a strong predictor of how they would deal with their romantic partner. This directly affected their ability to be successful in a romantic relationship.
Researchers divided conflict resolution methods into three categories: compromise, attack, and avoidance. If you’ve read my prior posts, you know I believe conflict avoidance is very bad for relationships. Click here to read that post. (I’m also not an advocate for attack, but the downside of that method is obvious.) The UK researchers agree, noting that conflict avoidance is a dysfunctional style of dispute resolution. It detracts from a relationship because it prevents people from actively confronting issues and expressing themselves, thus causing them to grow apart. I’ve known many people whose conflict avoidance has led to the failure of their marriage, and I bet you do, too.
Compromise, on the other hand, consists of good relationship skills like expressing one’s feelings, trying to understand the other person’s feelings, listening to what the other person is saying, trying to reason and work out something that is mutually acceptable. This necessarily includes a willingness to experience some conflict.
Are you a conflict avoider? You are if you:
• Pretend there is no conflict or ignore it
• Subjugate your own needs to the other person by going along with his preferences
• Avoid talking about the conflict by evasion, including diversion by making jokes
• Clam up and hold your feelings inside.
If you avoid conflict with your sibling when there are issues that need attention, are you really close like you thought? Probably not. Plus you are reinforcing dysfunctional conflict resolution skills that you both learned in childhood, probably from your parents. Conflict avoidance may have caused you and your sibling to grow apart over your adult years. You may feel like you can’t really be yourself with your “close” sibling.
Conflict avoidance hurts your ability to maintain an adult romantic relationship but you don’t have to be locked into those patterns for life! Noticing the connection between the style of conflict resolution in your family of origin and your current conflict style can help you change these old patterns. I can teach you how to resolve conflict by being honest, open-hearted and authentic in your relationship. Sign up for a free mini-coaching session to learn more!