Sometimes, when there is conflict in a relationship, people tend to avoid the problem or push their partner away.
While some may think that avoiding conflict can lead to a healthy relationship, this isn’t always the case. In some situations though, avoiding conflict, fighting and arguing can be an act of self-care.
Like anything, too much of one thing isn’t always good. So, engaging in conflict too much, or avoiding it all together can drastically hurt your relationship.
It’s hard to tell if you are withdrawing to avoid conflict (as a way of punishing your partner) or if you are lovingly disengaging as an act of self-care.
How can you know the difference between conflict avoidance and self-love?
Let’s look at the fictional character, Alyce, as an example.
Alyce typically withdrawals from conflict with her husband and wants to know if she’s doing so as an act of self-care or if she’s really just avoiding the problem.
Alyce explains,”I have let go of trying to get him to hear me, and am getting better at lovingly disengaging when the yelling and blaming begins,” she narrates. “When I disengage, I always say that I will return later to talk, if he is open to this. However, I find that since caring for myself in this way, I have almost no loving interaction with him otherwise, and feel as if I am ‘checking out.’
Is Alyce using “loving disengagement” so she doesn’t have to work on the relationship…or is she providing herself some self-care by avoiding the conflict?
It sounds like Alyce may be initially lovingly disengaging, but she is also withdrawing to avoid her painful feelings. She claims that she has “almost no loving interaction with him otherwise” and feels like she’s ‘checking out’ of the relationship.
When you lovingly disengage, you keep your heart open and do your own healing. You lovingly manage the core existential pain of loneliness, heartache, and helplessness that arise when you are yelled at and blamed.
You do whatever you need to do to stay open and loving toward your partner so that if or when they are open and ready to re-engage, you are there for that.
Checking out is the same as withdrawal and the intent is to avoid the painful core feelings and to punish your partner for their unloving behavior.
The key to understanding whether you are loving yourself or avoiding conflict is to be honest with yourself about your intent.
The wounded, ego-self is tricky.
The wounded self may be saying that you are lovingly disengaging because you don’t want to subject yourself to yelling and blaming. And that you will be open to talking about it later, once you process your thoughts.
If you are honestly avoiding a moment of conflict to go off and reflect, then you are truly disengaging in a loving manner. This is very different from ‘checking out.’
But, if you’re just telling yourself that you’ll use the time to process the conflict, but never revisit the issue with your partner, you may be just avoiding the problem.
So, what is Alyce’s intent? Does she go back to her husband with the intent to learn? And if she does, what happens? What if her husband never opens up? Then, perhaps, Alyce is checking out rather than accepting what could be the truth — that her husband isn’t open to learning and growing with her.
She may initially be lovingly disengaging, but end up withdrawing as a way to avoid the pain of the truth of her relationship.
If your intent is to love yourself and your partner, then you need to stay open to the truth of what’s happening between you. If your intent is to protect, control, or avoid, then you will shut down to avoid the core pain of your unloving relationship.
None of this is black and white and none of it is easy because hey, relationships are rarely easy.
And, your intent can change from moment to moment.
You may be open at the moment you disengage and then close up to avoid the pain of the reality of your relationship.
But, in the end, it’s really a matter of how honest you are willing to be with yourself.
Whether you’re dealing with conflict in a marriage or a new relationship, evaluate yourself to make sure that you’re approaching problems with self-care in mind and not just avoiding them. Why? Because avoiding conflict and relationship problems may put you on a fast track to heartbreak.
Margaret Paul holds a PhD in psychology and is a relationship expert, noted public speaker, workshop leader, educator, consultant, and artist. Heal your relationship with Margaret’s Intimate Relationship Toolbox, a 12-week online course.
This article was originally published at Inner Bonding. Reprinted with permission from the author.