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Having authentic relationships can be challenging.

When you tell someone how you feel and what you think about them, sometimes it can hurt them, especially if they take it the wrong way.

But denying or ignoring existing issues doesn’t help the relationship to grow.

In fact, avoiding conflict can create a bigger problem

in the relationship down the road.

When you can’t share your emotions and thoughts freely, there is an underlying lack of trust, safety, and security in your relationship. You feel as though if you express yourself truthfully, people will not like you and might leave or abandon you.

Hiding your truth from others can make you feel lonely, unseen, and unheard. When you are too guarded, people cannot get close to you and be intimate with you on a deeper, emotional level. It might feel safer when you avoid conflict, but your relationships often stay stagnant at a superficial level. The other party might also think that you don’t trust them enough with your feelings or you dislike them, so they start distancing themselves from you or stop sharing about themselves too.

So how do we be transparent and yet maintain peace in our relationships? First, we have to understand what authenticity means in relationships.

What Does Authenticity Mean in Relationships?

Some people think being authentic means sharing whatever thoughts or feelings they have. But to me, this isn’t authenticity.

Let me give you an example. Have you experienced something like this before? You are really angry or upset about a situation, and you said something nasty to someone that you later regret. Is this being authentic? Hardly.

Yes, you were angry at that moment in time. But after you give yourself some time to cool off, your perspective of the same situation might change. Emotions and thoughts are like the weather, they come and go. They represent a snapshot in time, but they are not a good representation of who we truly are.

Authenticity is not your automatic, immediate, and reactive action or thoughts.

It’s what you choose to do, say, feel, and think when you have awareness. 

We have a lot of thoughts each day, and most of them are not by choice. They are automatically generated based on our belief systems and past conditioning. Real authenticity in a relationship is what you choose after all the dust has settled.

It doesn’t mean you deny your emotions. When you have awareness, you acknowledge your anger. You might even communicate to the other party that you are feeling angry at the moment. But with awareness, you know deep down inside, you didn’t want to hurt the person you love. So you tell them you need some time to realign and reflect on the situation before you talk to them again.

If you just share or blurt out everything in your head in the heat of the moment, of course, it’s not going to go well. When you are reactive, the other party might start to become reactive too. Both of you might end up in a fight and forget about how much you really care for each other.

How to Build Authentic Relationships and Stop Being Conflict Avoidant

1. Be honest with yourself first.

To be authentic in your relationships, you need to develop self-awareness and know yourself well first. If you don’t know what you are thinking and feeling, how do you communicate it with another person?

As an empath, I can tell when someone’s actions and words don’t match what they are actually feeling. When someone tells me that they are okay when they are not or pretend to be happy, I can sense it and it doesn’t feel good to be lied to. But over the years, I realize some people are just so oblivious to their own emotions that they can’t express how they feel honestly.

Also, when you recognize and embrace your strengths and weaknesses,

you are not afraid of what other people think of you. 

You don’t have to keep showing off your accomplishment to seek validation or prove to others that you are good at something. At the same time, you can be vulnerable because you are not afraid of others knowing your weaknesses. You don’t feel judged when they point out your flaws as you already know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and feel secure about them.

Rather than trying to control what others think of you, you can just be your authentic self.

2. Care about the other person.

Being authentic to yourself is slightly different from being authentic in a relationship.

The term “relationship” is about relating and connecting to another person or object. So you have to take the other party into account. You can’t be blunt and call that as being authentic. It’s okay if you are having a monologue. But if it’s a dialogue, you have to make sure the other person is receiving it well and understood your intention clearly.

When you communicate in an unfiltered manner that triggers others,

they get emotional and can’t hear what you have to say. 

Unless your intention is to piss them off, you have to craft your message in such a way that others can hear you. You have to show them you care about them too and it’s not just about how you think or feel about the subject.

Sometimes, this could mean you have to intersperse between saying what you think with what you notice about the other person. For example, you can say something like, “I feel disappointed when you reject my invitation. But I notice you are busy with your work.” Remove any accusation or assumption. You don’t want to say something like, “You never accept my invitation. You care more about your work than me.”

Instead, ask questions and be open to learning about their point of view. When are curious about what others have to say, you show interest in them and clear any misunderstanding you might have. This reduces unnecessary conflicts.

Furthermore, every time you are venting about your work and life, please note that your loved ones are at the receiving end of your frustration. You might be saying what you truly felt in the moment, but your loved ones are innocent. Even though they care about you and want to be there for you to listen to your troubles, take care of them too. Take some time to process your emotions before you communicate your issue with them. Don’t just flood them with your negative emotions.

3. Embrace differences and different opinions.

When you are in a relationship with someone, especially one that is intimate, they are bound to be differences. You probably don’t want someone who has no opinion or preference and try to please you all the time. We are attracted to people who are somewhat different from us, so we can learn from each other and grow.

Having different opinions doesn’t escalate into a conflict.

It’s poor communication or the need to be right that causes conflicts.

As mentioned previously, the way you communicate with the other person matters. If you approach the other person with an adamant belief that you are right and the other person is wrong, the conversation will definitely become a conflict. But if you come with an open mindset to understand a different point of view, then the conversation will be more harmonious.

Letting go of the need to be right doesn’t mean you have to adopt someone else’s opinions. Opinions are subjective. Both parties are right based on their belief systems and worldview. There is no need to announce a winner. When you allow yourself to have your own view and the other person to have a different view from you, both of you are free to be your authentic self. You don’t feel the pressure and the need to please the other or try to control their perspective.

If for whatever reason, the other party has to be right all the time and can’t accept a different point of view, then you know this relationship is not the best for you in the long run. Instead of giving in or avoiding conflict, it’s probably better to let go of this relationship and move on.

4. Change your perception of conflicts.

People who avoid conflicts often think that if they say what they truly feel, the other party cannot handle it and will be upset with them. They have a negative expectation of conflicts and disagreements. They believe it’s not okay to assert themselves because it will ruin their relationships.

As someone who is conflict avoidance too, I have to keep reminding myself that other people are stronger than I think. Yes, they might be disappointed when I disagree with them but they can manage their own emotions. It’s not my responsibility to manage their emotions. Instead, I have to resolve my own discomfort for conflict and challenge my limiting beliefs.

If you run away or retreat whenever there is a little drama in your intimate relationship, you and your partner don’t get to work out the issues. Avoiding conflict can bring about short-term safety, but there will be no growth and intimacy in the long term.

See conflicts and disagreements as triggers for expansion

in personal growth and relationships.

When two people come together, they bring different values, ideas, boundaries, preferences, interests, etc to the relationship, it takes some time to harmonize and calibrate to each other. Every time you share about yourself and accept the other person for who they are, you experience an expansion in terms of your worldview and belief systems. You become more open to new perspectives and ways of doing things.

On the flip side, when you avoid these difficult conversations, you miss this precious chance of getting to know your partner better and deprive your partner of knowing you deeper. Even though there isn’t any disagreement, you don’t get closer with your partner either. In fact, you might start keeping more secrets from your partner in fear that they will be mad at you. Both parties might even secretly carry resentment for each other and it’s only a matter of time, the issue gets brought up again in a more dramatic fashion in the future.

Whenever things get challenging, stay with the discomfort and communicate the best that you can. Let your partner know how you feel and allow them to choose how they want to respond to you. Their response might not be as bad as you imagine it to be.

Featured Photo Credit: Helena Lopes