Clients sometimes describe themselves as a peacemaker and, as we continue talking, I learn about their family dynamics, their particular role in the family and the messages they learned about conflict.
I think wanting to be a peacemaker is admirable. In a time when it feels like we are constantly guarding ourselves waiting for the next conflict or sudden outburst... in traffic, in public, at work, in schools, in homes... knowing that someone out there wants to help maintain a sense of peace feels refreshing.
Although the goal of peacemaking is to maintain a sense of unity, develop relationships, encourage growth, find healing and experience reconciliation, there can be another side to the motivational drive of a peacemaker... to simply avoid conflict.
Many people are uncomfortable in moments of conflict, which is completely understandable. Escalated emotional experiences often trigger a fight/flight response in us, prompting us to make decisions and show up with certain behaviors. For some, it is so uncomfortable it actually feels unbearable. They want to get away from the overwhelming distress as quickly as possible. What better way to protect ourselves than to try and not experience any conflict at all? Then we don't have to worry about it, right? NOPE...
In our attempts to be a peacemaker in relationships we might find ourselves compromising our values, behaving in ways that don't represent who we are or what we value, staying quiet when it is appropriate to be assertive, avoiding setting boundaries and giving permission to things that feel wrong. We may see ourselves as, "easy going" or simply "picking our battles" but that is not always the case. In some cases we're not picking any battles and then wonder why it doesn't seem to work. This method doesn't seem to stop conflict from happening and then we get frustrated, overwhelmed and sometimes just pissed off at the other person for not going along with the "avoiding conflict" plan.
When we realize that moments of vulnerability are different than conflict we can have hope for trying something new. Conflict suggests there is an emotional distance between two people, so it is completely understandable why people would not want more of that in their relationship. Many people work very hard to not cause further distance between themselves and their partner. They might stare at their partner and not say anything, stare into space trying to find just the right words to say, scramble for a solution to a problem or walk away until the dust settles. Unfortunately, these behaviors can come across as uncaring, sending a very mixed up signal to the partner and leading to more distance between them and their partner... the exact thing they were trying to avoid! How confusing and frustrating!
When given the opportunity to slow the conversations down a bit, we can explore what is really happening in moments just like that. There is so much more happening than what we can see in the room at the time and it is unfortunate that partners don't really know how to get out of stuck situations with each other. We do our best but, many times, don't feel very successful. Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples helps partners slow these moments down to clarify what is happening, giving each partner a much better chance at being successful in helping navigate out of an emotionally challenging situation.
Remember that avoiding conflict does not help healing if you and your partner feel distant and disconnected. In fact, it often just leads to greater feelings of distance and it doesn't feel good for either partner. All you need is a willingness to learn something new. There is help for you and your partner. We have a wonderful community of compassionate therapists who are trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy, as well as weekend workshops for couples throughout the year. If I am not the right fit for you and your situation, I can certainly help you with trusted referrals in the area.
Grace Counseling Associates, PLLC