Family life

3 steps to facing your fear of confrontation

Put an end to your fear of confrontation with these three steps — and learn how best to express yourself when confronting your partner.

Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

Many of us go through life dodging disputes — ducking and weaving to avoid any form of fall-out. We do it with co-workers, we do it with supervisors, we do it with sisters and sisters-in-law, and importantly, we do it with spouses.

That avoidance comes at a high cost. When we continually sidestep squabbles (or the potential for them), we silence our deepest thoughts and feelings; we silence ourselves. That self-imposed gag order sabotages our personal power. And it sabotages our personal growth, since overcoming obstacles is key to human development. What’s worse, the ritualistic swallowing of bitter pills inevitably leads to resentment — a slow-growing toxin that poisons partnerships. So let’s put an end to confrontation evasion.  Here’s how…

1. Reframe Confrontation is not the same as combat. Conflict is inevitable in the life of a partnership. Why? Because you and your spouse are not clones, you are unique, sentient beings who are bound to come up against differences. Handling those differences in a respectful manner is, in fact, a symptom of good-health in a relationship. So stop seeing conflict as a sin, or a sign of impending doom, and learn to embrace it!

2. Diagnose Figure out why you’re afraid to confront. In my experience, the altercation-averse fall into two main camps: those who fear rejection, and those who fear losing.

Those who move through life avoiding rejection are what we in the therapy world call "pleasers." They are well practiced at the fine art of pleasing others— doing what they perceive others want them to do, saying what they perceive others want to hear. Failure to do so, they believe, will make them vulnerable to disapproval and, therefore, ostracism. Muting their true desires has become an insurance policy.


Those who move through life in fear of losing, are actually afraid of a loss of status, or the superior position. For them, winning (besting, gaining the upper hand) assures their sense of significance.

So what now? Well, we are all governed by inner fears just like these. Bringing them into consciousness "outs" those fears, making them far less potent.

3. Do Differently Confrontations don’t have to ring your rejection bell, or push your “loss of status” panic button. Conflict doesn’t have to be ugly. The key is this: Don’t debate, communicate. Approach this seeking understanding (“I wonder what’s going on here?”) and in the spirit of problem solving (not blaming).

How? Express your feelings without any added value judgments. That means putting that wagging finger back into its holster and, instead, stating your needs.


Instead of: “You always leave your crap all over the house. You treat me like your personal maid!”

Try: “I feel frustrated by the amount of cleaning I’m doing. I’d like it if we could figure out how to share housework in an equitable way.”

Following this three-step formula could release you from your crippling fear of confrontation — and restore honesty and evolution to your primary partnership. Ready? On your mark, get set, grow!

This article was originally published on Dec 10, 2013

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