May 16, 2012

Avoid Conflict Avoidance

Sitting in my office is a father of an adolescent girl who had severe anorexia. The anorexia had been compounded by the fact that the husband and wife were separated. The marriage fell apart when the husband announced that he had another woman and he was undecided where he wanted to go with his marriage.

Sitting alone with him in my office I asked him what happened with his marriage, stating that people don’t leave relationships unless they are unhappy on some level. He responded, “All I know is that when things would bother me, I was afraid to bring them up with my wife”.

For years this man sat on his unhappiness, afraid to address the issues that were troubling him and making him feel angry, sad or alone. I thought to myself how sad this situation was. Not only was this man’s inability to address conflict causing him pain, it had affected the whole family negatively, not only through the break-up but by modelling conflict avoidance. His wife described herself as a “basket case”, his daughter had anorexia, and his other children were also negatively impacted.

Over the year working with eating disorders, I am struck by these very simple, everyday, almost trivial interpersonal dynamics that can lead to such profound misery that not only effects this generation but others.

By the father not addressing his own frustrations directly with his wife, his frustrations grew while his wife was powerless to prevent them as she had no idea what was wrong. On the other hand, if this man had been able to effectively communicate his conflicts with her, steps could have been made to strengthen their relationship, and a better outcome for everyone could have been possible. This is not to say that the marriage break-up is all based on the husband failing to communicate, it is a lack of communication from both of them. Trust me; I am sure that his wife had equal frustrations that she also didn’t address.

So let me re-emphasise the importance of addressing issues directly with the people involved. Ideally, it would be good to have a person to support you as you do this as it is not always easy, especially if it means setting up new communication patterns that can feel strange or awkward and leave you open to being vulnerable. However, dealing with these issues before they escalate, even by becoming upset and expressing this, can be very valuable. It can be a way of re-directing a system.

This poor wife had no idea about what was bothering her husband so she had absolutely no way of addressing it.

Please share your thoughts.

Yours in health,


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