Avoid Avoiding Conflict | David Thornsen, PsyD | TEDxMuskegon

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the main reason that couples tend to

give when they come into my office for

therapy is communication now over the

years I have identified a common culprit

that is almost always the cause of that

breakdown in communication and that

common culprit is conflict avoidance now

I understand why people do it I think we

all do it for the right reasons you know

we say sure when we don't really mean it

or we keep something annoying to

ourselves because we don't want to ruin

the evening or whatnot but there is a

consistent cost to taking that approach

and when I explain that to couples in my

office it makes a dramatic difference in

the relationship so I want to explain

that to you now so let's take a

hypothetical couple will call them Terry

and Shawn and we'll put them into a not

super horrible dilemma and we're going

to see what happens so let's say that

Terry is out and heading home and calls

up Shawn says hey Shawn I've got a great

idea let's get pizza and Shawn's

thinking oh I don't really feel like

pizza I it was kind of thinking about a

salad today and Shawn knows it to say

that would mean that conflict would be

in the relationship right and I always

picture it up here between the two

people up here like swarming around like

a swarm of bees or a thundercloud or


it's conflict so let's say instead Terry

calls up and says hey Shawn I got a

great idea let's get pizza tonight and

Shawn doesn't want pizza really wants a

salad but doesn't want to have that kind

of evening so says yeah sure Pizza

sounds good all right no harm done Shawn

doesn't really want pizza but went along

with it anyway no big deal there's no

conflict up here in the relationship but

does the conflict still exist right it

does where does it exist inside of Shawn

so Sean hasn't avoided conflict Shawn

has effectively internalized

now the first thing that happens there

the most simple thing is that Terry's

getting misinformation right so Terry's

going to come home with the pizza plan

on having a great night thinking that

they're both in on it together and

Shawn's gonna be a little off a little

quiet little weird and when Terry asks

why Shawn's not gonna be able to really

say why and it's going to be kind of

weird but that's not even the worst part

the real damage to the relationship

comes in here because conflict in order

to be resolved or dissolved or word

through or gotten rid of always requires

compromise so if Terry wants pizza and

calls up Shawn and Shawn doesn't really

want pizza and says that there's

conflict up here in the relationship

then the two partners are going to have

to work together and come up with a


maybe the order of pizza and pick up a

salad maybe they wait till Saturday

I don't know they'll come up with some

kind of some kind of compromise together

to work it out but if Terry calls up

Sean says hey I got a great idea let's

get pizza tonight Sean doesn't want

pizza but doesn't want to have that

evening so says yeah sure pizza go ahead

I'll order it you pick it up and

internalizes the conflict what happens

then see the compromise that

internalized conflict requires is that

we compromise a bit of ourselves every

time and it builds up over time and it

has a way of chipping away at a person

sense of self and they begin to feel

like they don't matter they're less

important in the relationship they begin

to feel like they lose their voice and

then resentment sets in and resentment

builds now the good news is that it's

really easy to undo that pattern all the

couple has to do is prioritize honesty

over the reaction that they're afraid

that they're going to get from their

partner all they have to do is make sure

that their yes means yes or their no

means no be honest with each other in

their thoughts and their feelings now

will there be more conflate

now there won't be more conflict

it'll just be out in the open where it

belongs right we're both partners can

work together to come up with a

compromise so that nobody is any longer

internalizing the conflict

nobody's chipping away at their sense of

self there's no voice being lost

resentment doesn't set in and resentment

doesn't build up so I'd like to see you

try that being honest with one another

it'll be easier than you think

thank you