Getting 'unstuck' and addressing the elephant in the room
An article regarding Infidelity and the Avoidant Personality
If you avoid conflict more than you communicate meaningfully and honestly, there is an issue that needs to be addressed regarding your views on how you deal with conflict in your life and why.
In therapy I sometimes have to remind clients that processing their feelings over and over is normal. I want them to be sure they fully understand that they are in therapy to heal and not to entertain me. It seems that clients are sometimes embarrassed that they have not come further than they have at some point, and they apologize for repeating their feelings in therapy. I am there to help them understand that healing must come at their pace and only at their pace, or true and meaningful recovery will not be achieved. If your pace is not honored, it can ultimately result in continuing to feeling emotional pain for longer than necessary. Another scenario is that the client is initially eager to come to therapy to address their feelings, but taking action is something they postpone or avoid completely. These clients usually leave therapy prematurely, and return when the pain becomes unbearable. When it comes to Infidelity, not addressing the elephant in the room requires a tremendous amount of effort. If it goes on for too long, I categorize this as being stuck.
As a therapist I define being 'stuck' as how you personally answer one question. If you ended therapy today and were to return in seven years, what would be different if you continued on the path you are at this very moment? If you conclude that your life would not be different, or could potentially be worse, I would say that you are 'stuck' and in need of change in your life.
Who is at risk of being stuck?
-Addicts who do not want to face their addiction,
those emotionally immature,
those fearful of conflict,
anyone with an unaddressed chronic issue that
causes them or those they love pain,
those with untended issues with codependency,
anything that stifles communication or emotional
growth in a significant relationship.
In most of my articles I stress the importance of giving yourself approximately two years to heal from emotional trauma, and I categorize Infidelity as emotional trauma. This means you have to actively participate in doing the work that it takes to recover if you are the one who caused the trauma, or if you are the one who was impacted by it. If you are in an accident you need physical therapy to ensure that you heal properly, or you may have physical issues later that could have been avoided. Physical therapy takes time and effort. It is sometimes uncomfortable but necessary. Your emotions are not very different in regard to trauma. Do the work it takes to heal properly initially to avoid unnecessary complications later. I firmly believe from a therapeutic perspective that avoidance will create the ideal atmosphere for being stagnant in your connection with your partner, and other relationships in your life. Minimal to no progress is made when avoidance is the dominant tool in dealing with Infidelity, when it comes to relationships that are most meaningful to you.
Many people come to therapy and their personality type is one who avoids conflict at all costs. They want change but are afraid of conflict, so they make the effort to share their pain in therapy, but taking action to create change at home or where it matters most is another story. Avoiding conflict is beneficial at times, but it can result in stunting your growth emotionally if your relationships and experiences in life are primarily dealt with in this way. Why do people avoid conflict? It may be the norm in the home they were raised in, they may need to in regard to their career, it may be a component of their personality they naturally have, fear of causing an argument, upsetting someone, losing income, losing children, being manipulated, or a combination of things. It becomes an issue when it becomes and issue, and the end result is a loss of personal empowerment, self esteem, self respect, disconnect, depression and emptiness because you are unable to share your true feelings to avoid conflict.
When is it beneficial to avoid conflict? If losing your job is a factor, when you don't care and want out of a relationship, when you are dealing with an aggressive and/or irrational personality, when your interactions are minimal and the relationship is insignificant, potentially during legal situations, if your safety is at risk, etc.. I believe in picking and choosing arguments. I believe in a peaceful, respectful household and workplace, and I believe that avoiding conflict is key to less drama in life at times, but balance is everything, and sometimes facing conflict is necessary. Some relationships are worth the risk, and allowing conflict to happen is required in order to facilitate change to take place. If you avoid conflict more than you communicate meaningfully and honestly, there is an issue that needs to be addressed regarding your views on how you deal with conflict in your life and why.
Feelings must be honored and relationships with meaning must have meaning to survive. One definition of Meaning is "the end, purpose, or significance of something: expression" (dictionary.com). Human emotion is significant and must be expressed in some way if you are to remain in an ongoing deep relationship, or your emotions will be expressed in ways that manifest on their own, which is usually less appealing. Those manifestations may appear as disconnection, disorders, sabotage (example: affairs, addictions, compulsions), resentment, depression, etc.. For some this will look like a carefree person who isn't bothered by much, so they don't talk about it, or those that can't get beyond talking about the weather or facts and events that are taking place in their life. These personality types avoid discussions or responding to emails or attempts to resolve issues big or small. They pretend the issues don't exist.
For those on the other end of the spectrum it may look like they are constantly shaking things up and trying to get a reaction, or hiding and living a life of secrecy in order to facilitate some sort of distraction to avoid the lack of connection they are unable to achieve with the people they are closest to. This describes addicts who put their addiction in the way of their emotional needs, or people who choose to have affair(s) and participate in other forms of distractions and drama in their life. How can anyone connect and have a happy, healthy relationship with meaning if their efforts are scattered, full of secrecy, if they avoid responding to someone's hurt emotions when they took the time to reach out, or if they are holding everything in and not sharing what their true feelings are?
Being able to share your feelings with those you are close to shows that you care about your relationship enough to give it meaning. Avoiding conflict is nothing more than hiding. If avoidance is causing disconnection and pain, it may be worth the risk to stop avoiding and actually get your feelings out, even at the cost of experiencing conflict. Taking responsibility for yourself is important, and not allowing your partner to avoid conflict is also mandatory, if you want to get out of being stuck in your relationship(s). This takes courage and diligence, and a level of expertise in identifying avoidance, as some people are experts at derailing communication. If the relationship has significance in your life, issues need to be given the chance to be dealt with out in the open, instead of allowing them to fester, covered up like a wound that has been concealed and not properly tended to. Being honest about your feelings is an important step in reducing the need to connect with others (having an affair that is emotional or physical), or turning to another form of avoidance such as an addictive or compulsive behavior. It will also facilitate meaningful communication. The greatest benefit about not being avoidant is that you gave your relationship your all. You tried to connect and communicate. Keep in mind that this requires ongoing effort. It may not have been perfect, but you tried, and that helps you and your relationships in life emotionally progress and mature, which in turn is healing. When your emotional needs are tended to depression will be lessened in most cases.
What if my partner is not receptive and is avoidant also? In this scenario it is almost mandatory that a therapist you trust is involved in the process to help keep communication flowing. Being avoidant about the big stuff is especially not healthy when it comes down to relationships that matter. As I mentioned, some people are experts at derailing communication. Otherwise, dealing with important issues will most likely get shut down. Some tactics used to do this are: changing the topic, making excuses to end the conversation, becoming angry and defensive (which is another form of avoidance), tuning out, focusing on work, stress, or having a 'nice time' instead of dealing with the elephant in the room. It is so often that I hear that "it is/was not the time nor place" by avoidant people, who are great at passively aggressively punishing or derailing the one who is wanting change. A seasoned therapist should be able to identify these tactics and help facilitate communication so progress will take place session by session.
In my experience, relationships that have extreme issues pertaining to avoidance have extreme issues. Avoidance has facilitated a toxic relationship that is blanketed by a deteriorating facade. Conflict will most likely be stifled if there is fear for one's safety, manipulation, or an inability to communicate due to blame and an inability to take responsibility for one's actions. If these factors are present I'm assuming that you don't have much of a relationship. Involving a professional is highly recommended. Growth must occur or the stagnancy will become unbearable in one way or another. The other option is to exist the way it is and just accept it. For some that is an option, and as bleak as it seems, they choose to remain stagnant, having little to no meaning in their relationships and accepting all of the bad, allowing issues to remain unresolved and swept under the rug. For some their goal will be achieved and they will continue to avoid conflict, pretending all is ok, feeling unfulfilled, disconnected and ultimately depressed in most cases. Humans are hardwired to connect. Avoiding the elephant in the room is really hard work. So why do it?
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