Individual Counseling, Couples Counseling and Sex Therapy

Character Trait Or Conflict Avoidant?

You’re partner is running late again. Despite all of your best efforts to get him or her out of the door, once again you will be late couples counseling, marriage counseling, conflict resolutionfor dinner at your Mom’s house. It’s funny how your partner is on time for other things, such as meeting up with friends…

Do you have a partner whose behavior is puzzling? Their words don’t match their actions? For example, a partner who tells you they don’t mind going to your parent’s house for dinner every Sunday but always manages  to be at least a half-hour late? And then when you ask them about this discrepancy, they insist everything is fine? That they really do like your Mother?

Well, there could be two reasons for this behavior. One is that they have a character flaw, such as being disorganized and a poor time manager. And people don’t like to admit to character flaws because it shows weakness, so the flaw may not be immediately apparent. The other possibility is that they are trying to send you a message through their behavior, since that is a more indirect and therefore less confrontative way. The truth is your partner really doesn’t want to have dinner with Mom but they don’t want to tell you because they are afraid you will be offended/get angry. In another words, you could be partnered with someone who avoids conflict, and prefers to manipulate situations through their behavior instead.

In order to address the issue, you have to know which of these two situations you are dealing with. If your partner has a character flaw, then that is something inherent in their personality and you may just have to accept it. It’s possible people can moderate their behavior, but if it’s a lifelong habit then progress will be slow, assuming they are willing to change. (They may not be.) On the other hand, if you are dealing with a conflict-avoider, with some prodding you can get to the heart of the issue. In the dinner example referred to above perhaps the real issue is why your partner doesn’t want to have dinner with your folks every weekend. Once you have the real reason for the behavior, you can then address your partner’s concerns and negotiate a compromise.

Therefore, you can’t solve the problem until you understand its root cause. Is this a character defect you just need to accept, or a conflict-avoidant way of getting a need met? Sometimes this is difficult for couples to discover on their own; your local couples counselor can be of assistance in this area.

P.S. A shout out to my colleague, Anna Lively, who gave me the idea for this topic.

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