Avoidance Is an Unsound Defence Mechanism! – What are Better Coping Strategies?

A woman covering her eyes - Avoidance – Coping Strategies?

It’s easier to avoid things that are difficult, right?

The reality, of course, is that’s it’s anything but good for you. Yet, many still struggle with this defence mechanism.

What is their motive?

Why you might use avoidance as a defence mechanism

You may use avoidance because, at the moment, it is easier than facing the harder choice. This applies whether you have to pay a bill, need to have an awkward conversation with your partner, or address something which has happened.

The problem is that, unless it’s addressed, the issue only compounds itself over time. Just like with the late bill, avoidance will only lead to paying a higher price later on.

For a relationship, this might mean having an argument, a loss of trust, or feeling misunderstood. In the end, avoiding the conversation only makes things worse and can damage your relationship.

Fortunately, there are more effective coping strategies that you can use, rather than avoidance.

Ask to be heard

It’s not uncommon to practice avoidance because you are afraid of starting an argument. The last thing you want is to make your partner upset. Yet, you also have something that you want to say to your partner. What can you do?

One way to break the ice in this situation is to ask that they listen, without interrupting, to all you have to say. That way, you have the opportunity to speak and get everything off your chest.

Once you are have finished saying what you wanted to say, acknowledge this to your partner and allow them to have the chance to talk. They are then in a better position to see the whole picture and respond accordingly.

Practising mindful listening

Sometimes you don’t have a problem with speaking but rather listening and avoidance. Perhaps, when your partner speaks to you about a serious topic, you shut down and stop listening. All you want to do is to leave the room and not be a part of the conversation. 

When that happens, your partner does not feel understood, and you don’t know what is wrong.

If this cycle continues, it inevitably leads to both of you feeling misunderstood and unheard. That’s where mindful listening comes in.

Mindful listening means:

  • When your partner speaks truly hear each word they have to say
  • Resist the temptation to push their words away
  • Once they have finished speaking, reflect and summarise what you heard them say
  • Have empathy and compassion for your partner

Having the tough talk

Let’s say that you need to have an awkward conversation with your partner. However, you keep avoiding or skirting around on the discussion.

Ask yourself, why? Are you afraid of your partner’s reaction? What is the long-term cost of not talking? If the situation was reversed, wouldn’t you want your partner to be honest with you?

Other factors to consider include:

  • Identify the best time to talk (Right before going to bed at night isn’t the best idea!)
  • Choose to have a conversation in a neutral and safe place. For example, around the kitchen table, rather than driving in a car
  • Ensure that you are both free from distractions (Silence your mobile phone and make sure the TV’s turned off!)
  • Make eye contact with your partner rather than looking away when speaking.

Try breathing!

You probably turn to avoidance because whatever you are avoiding makes you anxious or nervous. When you are practising the above tips but are still feeling that anxiety come on, try using mindful breathing. Mindful breathing is as simple as taking a few deep, slow breaths, observing how it feels. Just one minute of conscious breathing – about five slow, deep breaths – will make a significant difference.

It works because, when you get nervous, breathing becomes faster and shallower, which only adds to the anxiety. Taking slow deep breaths can help to slow things down, and keep you from getting too anxious.

Remember that there is no positive aspect of avoidance. Eventually, whatever it is you are trying to avoid will come back. It’s as valid for life in general, as it is in relationships. Yet, by following the simple steps outlined above and being mindful, you can face the situation head-on.

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