Not long ago, I was counseling a couple when one partner, Tracie, wowed me with this:
“There will be days in which I will get mad at you and you will get mad at me but we will resolve it. I don’t want to live a life of avoidance.”
Tracie is on to something. Avoidance is no way to inhabit a relationship . . . it isn’t living. It’s compromise; it’s existing in a space of bitterness and resentment; it’s detachment. And detachment grows like an untreated fungus. Pretty soon, a canyon-sized gap defines the nature of the relationship. Not good. Problems don’t get resolved, discussion is thwarted so misunderstandings are allowed to flourish, and wounds don’t get healed—only compounded.
Problems don’t magically go away. They grow fatter if ignored. And we can’t rely on time to do the healing. It doesn’t always work that way.
Dr. John Gottman, an acclaimed marital researcher, doesn’t mince words. He maintains that such relationships are doomed, and further states that unaddressed issues and avoidance are more detrimental to relationship health than conflict. At least in the midst of conflict, he continues, passion and engagement are occurring.
All of that makes sense. Can we really feel close to someone who isn’t receptive to talking things out, who’s unwilling to listen to our point of view, who’s unwilling to work on arriving at a common understanding, who’s unwilling to get vulnerable and naked with their truth? Of course not. It takes mutual understanding—more so than agreement, actually—to spawn an intimate connection.
Thich Nhat Hanh put it perfectly:
“Love is made of understanding and understanding is made of love. “
And, let’s face it, understanding can’t happen unless we have the courage to share honestly, gently, and with an open heart.
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality