5 Ways Conflict Avoidance Can Impact Your Relationships (Spoiler: It's Not Great)

Although we've all been in situations with our partners where we'd rather walk away than deal with an argument, it's not something anyone should make a habit of. It's one thing to throw your hands up in the air and tell your partner you'll resolve the issue after you both calm down, but it's another thing to actively go out of your way to avoid any type of conflict.


"A conflict-avoidant personality is a type of people-pleasing behavior where someone avoids conflict or disagreements at all costs and fears making others upset or angry," psychotherapist licensed Babita Spinelli tells PsychCentral. "Individuals who are conflict-avoidant tend to expect there will be a negative reaction and avoid even interactions that are healthy conflicts."

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, partnerships with high conflict avoidance reportedly have lower levels of relationship satisfaction, especially for women. While a 2013 study published in HHS Public Access found that those who suppress their emotions, as conflict-avoidant people do, have a higher risk of dying early, especially from cancer. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Psychotherapy, found similar results, in addition to the fact that emotional repression can do severe damage to one's mental health.


Basically, conflict avoidance isn't good for anyone in any way. But here's how it does a number on relationships.

It can lead to resentment

Relationships need communication to thrive and succeed. You may think you're doing your relationship a favor by avoiding an argument, but you're not. It's completely natural — even inevitable — that you and your partner will sometimes disagree. When this happens, you shouldn't run from the conflict out of fear of arguing. Healthy relationships are the ones where each partner knows that disagreements are an important part of conflict resolution — something partners should strive to achieve.


"If you don't talk it out, you'll act it out," social scientist and author David Maxfield tells Bustle. "When people don't voice their concerns, the concerns leak out in other ways — they become more abrupt, dismissive, and rude. The solution is to talk it out in an honest, frank, and respectful way. Dialogue is the solution. Silence causes the problem to continue."

As Nelson Mandela famously said, "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." Your partner isn't your enemy and all that poisonous resentment that keeps piling up inside you is eventually going to burn a hole in your stomach.

It forces people to endure things that make them uncomfortable

When you're too scared to rock the boat by speaking up, then you're going to find yourself in situations you don't like over and over again. It's not a matter of putting up with something that makes you uncomfortable, but being forced to endure it — there's a fine line between enduring and suffering.


If you don't say anything, you'll continually find yourself in places, with people, and under conditions that are upsetting and against your core values, which can result in traumatic experiences. That's why it's so important to, first of all, have boundaries and, second of all, assert those boundaries. Boundaries keep us safe and within our comfort zone; they prevent us from enduring things that we may not be emotionally or mentally able to handle. If you can't tell your partner what your boundaries are because you'd prefer to avoid conflict, then you're betraying your own intuition and not giving your partner much credit. Despite your fear of possibly causing a fight, your partner wants you to be open and share your boundaries — we all want that for the people we love — so you can be comfortable as much as possible. 


You can become emotionally unavailable

Although there are many reasons why someone might be emotionally unavailable and there are varying degrees of it, continuously avoiding conflict is going to result in a wall being built around you — a wall of your own making. Because you're unable to be open and discuss your feelings in a healthy way, you may become emotionally unavailable.


While we don't usually lump these two things together, the reality is that being conflict-avoidant is actually a form of emotional distancing. The greater the distance becomes, the more emotionally unavailable you become. Eventually, even if you're living with your partner, you're miles away all because you want to avoid conflict. The havoc that this can have on not just your relationship, but your mental well-being can be debilitating.

According to a 2017 study published in the journal Emotion, avoidant people practice something called "protective buffering," in which they prefer not to burden their partner with what's going on with them and what they're thinking. While that might seem nice in theory, a relationship is a partnership and it involves sharing thoughts and emotions on subjects, no matter how fearful you might be of possibly creating conflict.


It can cause deep denial

When everything you participate in or do is based on the decisions of someone else, at some point you're going to forget who you are. You become a people-pleaser who says "yes" constantly just to avoid what saying "no" might lead to; you're living in denial. Being inauthentic and pretending that nothing's wrong, even if you know deep down a lot of things aren't right, is a form of denial that's known as stonewalling.


"Stonewalling is when, during an argument or disagreement, someone begins to shut down, withdraw from the conversation, and build a wall between themselves and the other person," psychotherapist Ludine Pierre, LPCC tells Mind Body Green. "[Sometimes they] feel stuck and are unable to engage with the other person in a meaningful and rational way... [it's] not effective or sustainable, and over time will erode any relationship."

Denying that there are problems that should be discussed and denying the fact that you're the reason things aren't being discussed runs the risk of losing someone you love. 

You end up taking a backseat in your relationship

While there's no positive impact that comes from conflict avoidance, one of the worst aspects is you end up taking a backseat in your relationship. Fear of conflict and avoidance behaviors make it impossible to communicate one's needs. Although no one wants to get into an argument and most people prefer to be seen as a nice person as opposed to a troublemaker, that's no way to have a relationship — and it's certainly not a partnership.


If you're struggling to make yourself heard, then talk to your partner about your concerns and how anxiety-inducing conflict is for you. Educate yourself on how to disagree in a constructive manner. Practice being assertive, like saying "no," when you're not interested in something or would prefer to do something else. If it becomes necessary, seek out therapy. A mental health professional can offer you ways to open yourself to conflict so you can learn how to resolve it, as opposed to avoiding it.