I have a co-worker that lives by a volcano. It recently erupted and there’s fear that things could get worse.
The thing about volcanoes is, they often exhibit an outwardly calm and majestic presence on the surface. But beneath the surface they are volatile and potentially explosive. What seems peaceful on the outside can give way to powerful eruptions because of what’s happening on the inside.
Relationships that avoid dealing with conflict are like this.
When considering whether or not you should be investing in deepening relationship with specific people, watch for what they do when there’s conflict. Avoiding it is a relationship red flag.
Relationships are complicated
We all know conflict is inevitable. Our uniqueness guarantees it. We have differing beliefs, values, interests, preferences, habits, etc. Also, the ways in which we perceive and respond to those differences vary as well.
Layer on the fact that we tend to struggle understanding and appreciating viewpoints that differ from our own and human relationships become quite complicated.
Avoiding conflict in the midst of that leads to only one outcome – resentment and unresolved tension.
Therefore, if you notice someone sidestepping disagreements or disappearing right after any type of conflict occurs, it may be a sign they are not a great candidate for a close relationship.
Start sooner rather than later
The closer to the beginning of a relationship you can notice how conflict is dealt with, the better you’ll be able to determine if someone is a good fit for you. If conflict is being avoided in the small matters, it’s probably going to be avoided in the big ones that will lead to bigger problems and a possible breaking point in the relationship.
Unresolved small matters create a hostile environment and a ticking time bomb for when major issues come up. When small issues aren’t dealt with, then small things tend to become big things because you’re now starting from a different place.
Also, conflicts over minor things are typically symptoms of deeper underlying problems. If you deal with the small issues, you’ll be more aligned for when the bigger issues come up (remember, it’s guaranteed they will!).
Conflict is an opportunity
Trust and a willingness to be vulnerable are key components to healthy close relationships. This starts with a shift in one’s mindset to see differences as opportunities instead of obstacles. Anyone you would consider being close to should have this mindset as well.
In his book Rooting Out Relationship Killers, Stephen Matthew says this about the willingness to deal with conflict…
“It actually makes a statement about how much the relationship means to us. And if it really matters, we will be resolute with this weed and refuse to ignore conflict.”
Basically, you can tell if someone really wants to be close with you if they are motivated to work through conflict with you.
I’ve made the mistake many times of investing in relationships with people that really weren’t all that interested in being built together in close-knit relationship. The willingness to work through conflict is a signpost that you are important to another person. I’ve learned that this needs to be a required attribute of someone I invest heavily in.
They should see conflict as an opportunity to better understand each other and deepen the relationship. They should be able to enter the conflict resolution process with the goal of better understanding one another and building unity.
Just like our uniqueness guarantees conflict, it can also guarantee synergy in a relationship. It’s on the other side of conflict. Unity is where you want to get to. But you can’t get to it if you avoid conflict.
So most of the time it’s wiser to move on and invest in other relationships.
Dealing with conflict is a skill
Matthew goes on to point out…
Conflict resolution is a life-skill. It’s elements include:
- Recognizing your differences
- Laughing at yourself
- Being prepared to change
- Being honest
- Finding the best time to talk
- Listening before you speak
- Speaking the truth in love
- Re-center your relationship in Christ
It’s worth noting that conflict avoidance shouldn’t be considered only by itself. Some individuals may have a natural inclination to avoid conflict but still possess healthy communication skills and a willingness to address issues when necessary. Don’t move on from these people.
It’s essential to assess the broader context of the relationship, including other communication patterns, overall compatibility, and the willingness of both partners to work through challenges together.
When considering deepening relationships, observing how individuals handle conflict is crucial. If you do this, you’ll be able to invest in stronger and more meaningful relationships in the end.