At Couples Therapy Inc., our interactions with couples shed light on various affair patterns, among which the Conflict Avoidant Couple Affair emerges as a prominent archetype. This particular affair type encapsulates nuanced dynamics within relationships, offering a glimpse into an impasse that each partner grapples with internally. Exploring this affair type becomes a lens through which we unravel the intricate layers of conflict avoidance deeply embedded within relationships.

Unveiling the Conflict Avoidant Couple Affair

At Couples Therapy Inc., we often encounter various affair patterns, including one particular type prevalent among conflict avoidant couples. This affair type reflects underlying dynamics within relationships, exposing a specific impasse each partner struggles to address.

Understanding the Conflict Avoidant Couple Affair

Within this affair, there exists the Involved Partner (IP), the straying spouse, and the Hurt Partner (HP), the affected one. In conflict avoidant couples, either partner can assume the role of the IP. Their defining characteristic is a facade of civility masking a lack of healthy confrontation skills. The accumulation of unresolved dissatisfactions stems from the couple’s struggle to engage in open discussions or navigate disagreements. This struggle often aligns with the tenets of the Developmental Model of couples therapy, highlighting challenges in maintaining individual identities within the relationship.

Research Insights into Conflict Avoidance Affairs

Studies indicate that conflict avoidance affairs typically occur among couples in their twenties and thirties, often surfacing within the first twelve years of marriage. These affairs tend to be brief, superficial, and lacking emotional depth. The HP might display sporadic anger alongside an excessively reasonable and amicable demeanor, reflecting the underlying tension.

The Origin of Conflict Avoidant Couple Affairs

The conflict avoidant couple affair stems from mounting frustration, breakdowns in communication, and opportune moments. Instances such as a spouse’s newfound focus on parenthood or career endeavors frequently act as tipping points, exacerbating existing tensions. Addressing these underlying frustrations and communication barriers becomes pivotal in navigating and resolving this affair dynamic.

The Facade of the Conflict Avoidant Couple

Idealized Yet Inhibited

Externally, conflict avoidant couples often appear picture-perfect to friends and family. Their interactions exude thoughtfulness, courtesy, and a seemingly harmonious demeanor. However, beneath this surface lies a deeply ingrained pattern of conflict avoidance, leading them to present an illusionary relationship. They meticulously focus on portraying an idealized version of their union, paying more attention to the facade than addressing genuine issues. Even in rare moments of raising concerns, the listening partner often dismisses these as trivial matters, reinforcing the avoidance of confrontation.

Unacknowledged Discontent

The emphasis on an idealized relationship often blinds these partners to their underlying dissatisfaction. The intensity of their perfectionistic lens prevents them from acknowledging their genuine dissatisfaction, leading to a breeding ground for depression. This relentless denial of reality perpetuates a cycle where unresolved issues and resentments accumulate, causing emotional distress within the relationship.

Roots in Family Dynamics

Exploring the couple’s family of origin history unveils significant insights. In examining extensive family histories, it often becomes apparent that these couples learned to prioritize conflict avoidance for the supposed greater good of the family. These learned behaviors lay the groundwork for their approach to conflicts within their own relationship.

The Roots of Conflict Avoidance

Cultivated Expectations of “Niceness”

Growing up, the mantra was to maintain an outward demeanor of unyielding positivity and agreeability, even at the cost of authentic expression. Parents instilled the notion that any sign of anger or negativity was fundamentally wrong, sometimes resorting to punishment for the slightest dissent. This upbringing created an environment where differences were disregarded, problems went unaddressed, and the mere acknowledgment of issues was elusive. Additionally, deeply ingrained values from class or cultural backgrounds often reinforced these parental attitudes.

Decoding Conflict Avoidant Affairs

In conflict avoidant couples, affairs serve as shallow, attention-seeking maneuvers rather than genuine emotional connections. These extramarital involvements are more about disrupting the established status quo than substantial romantic connections. Beneath the surface, therapists recognize that the core challenge for these couples is their habitual avoidance of conflict itself, not the act of infidelity.

The Habitual Escalation

Partners inclined towards conflict avoidant affairs often perpetuate infidelities across multiple relationships, persisting even after the collapse of prior marriages. The pattern of seeking conflict avoidant affairs becomes deeply ingrained, stretching into subsequent marriages. Unaddressed, this pattern morphs over time into what’s known as the Split-Self Affair pattern.

Conflict Avoidance Unveiled

The pivotal factor in these affairs isn’t solely the infidelity; it’s the couple’s inherent tendency to evade conflict. Unfortunately, inexperienced therapists might misinterpret these cases, expecting an easier resolution due to the apparent acceptance of fault by the straying partner.

A Cycle of Exposure

Interestingly, the involved partner often initiates contact with therapists, readily assuming complete responsibility for the affair. This pattern is distinct in conflict avoidant affairs, where the involved partner displays genuine remorse and occasional confusion. Curiously, these couples tend to enter therapy, only for the involved partner to disclose the ongoing affair later on.

The Unveiling Desire

Paradoxically, the straying partner often unconsciously desires the exposure of their affair, considering their affair partner inconsequential in therapy sessions. The underlying motivations behind these affairs are complex, often bewildering even to the involved partner, rooted in the intricate lessons ingrained in family dynamics. These deeply ingrained familial lessons sometimes restrain and obscure our perceptions in unexpected ways.

Closing thoughts

As we delve into the complexities of conflict avoidance within relationships, it becomes evident that the Conflict Avoidant Couple Affair is a culmination of deeper-seated patterns and learned behaviors. Unveiling these underlying dynamics requires a thoughtful examination of familial influences, cultivated expectations, and the habitual evasion of conflict. By comprehending the intricacies of this affair type, therapists gain insight into the multifaceted nature of relationship dynamics and the profound impact of unaddressed conflict avoidance. Ultimately, decoding these patterns paves the way for a more comprehensive understanding of relational challenges and offers a starting point for couples to navigate through these intricate dynamics toward healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

Originally published March 11, 2017.