There are few things more attractive to a four-year-old than a mud puddle. So mysterious and alluring. It seems no amount of adult discouragement can keep a preschooler away. You give them enough freedom, and they will be stomping and splashing with total abandon — with not a care given to the effort it will take to remove the mud from shoes, clothing, face and hair. An adult, generally speaking, would likely have the opposite reaction, seeking to avoid such a messy experience, thinking, I suppose, “it is just not worth the effort it takes to clean-up.”
So, what if we apply this thinking to relationships? Before you think this is a bit of a jump, consider this: relationships are complicated, one could even say “messy.” We can desire a healthy and satisfying relationship, but unless we are willing to deal with the barriers to relationship growth, the odds are against us. Barriers are those messy and uncomfortable issues most would rather avoid. Many would rather avoid the difficult and scary issues which cause relationship distress. To risk addressing these concerns, means you might get a little “mud” on you. In order for relationship growth to happen, each partner in a relationship must be willing to “step into the mud.” To engage is to risk stepping into the mud . . . to remain stain free is to avoid.
Avoidance is a pretty common barrier to relationship growth. It usually occurs in two areas – conflict and intimacy. Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually a sign of life – a good friend of mine is fond of saying, “There’s not a lot of conflict in a graveyard.” Conflict is inevitable, and it grows out of relationship dissatisfaction. An avoidant relationship develops because at least one partner in the relationship fails to deal with conflict.
The other area of avoidance is intimacy. Intimacy refers to the “shared secrets” that exist between two people – their hopes and dreams, fears and trepidations. Couples who are conflict avoidant are very often intimacy avoidant.
With very few exceptions, avoidant relationships have two areas of failure. Failure to deal with conflict and failure to talk.
Couples avoid conflict for lots of reasons. They might be afraid of their partner’s response. They might believe that nothing’s going to make a difference, anyway. They might be afraid of hurting the feelings of the other. They may be in denial about what makes them angry. Or they believe that avoidance of conflict is the proper thing to do. If this sounds like you, it’s not likely much conflict will be resolved in your relationship.
In addition, couples avoid talking for other reasons. Maybe one person is not comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Perhaps they never learned how to share, or believe it’s not their duty to share.
It takes courage to speak up. One does so with great emotional risk. It is no less risky to reveal your hopes and dreams. The fears associated with such self-disclosure are like the globs of mud that soil the preschooler’s shoes and clothing.
The first experience in the relationship mud puddle can be chaotic and frightening. It’s a place where, at least initially, things are not clean and clear. A willingness to step in may become a place where each can hear and be heard, to seek to understand and be understood. Given some time, and some practice — along with a skilled counselor – stepping into the mud can become a place where understanding is reached, conflict is resolved, forgiveness is offered, and intimacy is developed. And while it may at first be messy, in the end it might just be worth getting a little muddy. So, be encouraged, take the risk, and take a step into the mud.
If you think you might be in an avoidant relationship, the counselors and coaches at Daniels and Associates are ready – and willing – to step into the mud with you, to offer you tools and resources to help resolve conflict and develop intimacy with your spouse, or significant other.
Contact us to request an appointment or receive a free phone consultation.