Confronters vs. Avoiders in Marital Conflict

Confronters Dollar Photo - Young Couple Having Argument At HomeAre you and your spouse both confronters or avoiders when you argue with each other? Or perhaps one of you is a confronter and the other is an avoider when it comes to conflict. It’s important to note:

“There are as many ways to fight as there are personalities. Some simmer, and some explode. Some attack head-on, and others blind-side. But two opposing familiar styles are what some call the CONFRONTER and the AVOIDER, or the attacker and the retreater. Other’s label these approaches the expressive and the non-expressive.” (Jack and Carole Mayhall)

Did you know that there are different approaches to dealing with conflict? We didn’t earlier in our marriage. But it has since helped us a lot after learning each other’s conflict style. (Like many couples, our conflict styles are very different.) As a result, we’re both learning to work with each other’s style. It’s not always easy; but it’s important to find ways to “marry” our differing styles. This helps us to get along better. It’s not the only conflict resolution tool we use to come to agreeable terms when an issue is raised, but it’s an important one.

So, that’s what we’re talking about in this Marriage Insight: differing styles of disagreeing. Here’s what Jack and Barb Snyder say about the issue of:

Confronters VS Avoiders

“Usually the non-expressive (avoider or retreater) person will want to walk away from conflict. However, the expressive (confronter or attacker) wants to talk about it, find out what’s wrong, and be friends again. Non-expressives do not want to talk about it, and believe that if they don’t, it will go away. They feel if they just let it alone, everyone will remain friends.”

That of course makes sense to the non-expressive person. But it frustrates the expressive person to no end. And, unfortunately, both are sure they’re right in all of this.

How do we deal with it? Steve and I struggled with this for many years (and still do sometimes). At times we forget what we’ve learned and resort backwards to our old ways. This usually ends up in frustration until we find ways to compromise. But we try to not let that defeat us; instead, we try, try again.

So, for the rest of this Insight we want to inform (or remind) you of the different ways of approaching disagreements. See if you can figure out which of these describe you; and then look to see if you recognize your spouse’s conflict style.

Additionally, here’s want Jack and Carole Mayhall from their book, “Opposites Attack” (no longer being published) said about CONFRONTERS vs. AVOIDERS:

Concerning Confronters VS Avoiders:

Whatever you name them, they’re easy to identify, and so are their techniques. The positive aspect of what we’ll call the CONFRONTER is that conflict issues are brought out into the open. They are talked about, and ideally, worked through to a conclusion. But confronters want to confront RIGHT NOW—anytime, and anywhere. And sometimes their timing is awful.

The AVOIDER knows that at times silence is golden because issues can look monstrous when you’re tired, sick, or struggling with other pressing problems. Sometimes a little distance is all you need. It helps you to see that the “Creature from the Lost Lagoon” is really just a small ordinary toad.

Both types, however, often use unfair techniques.


The CONFRONTER is frequently an expert at bringing up the past. One man said, “When we quarrel, my wife becomes historical.” “Don’t you mean hysterical?” his friend asked. “No, I mean historical. She brings up everything I ever did.”

CONFRONTERS are also adept at hauling in secondary issues:

“And not only won’t you help around the house, you forgot to pick me up from the hairdresser last week!” They tend to exaggerate and intimidate. They may scream, and even use an “ultimate” threat such as, “Maybe we ought to get a divorce,” or “You’d like me to commit suicide, wouldn’t you?” Some may also use humiliation to intimidate with exaggerated statements. These include statements such as “How can you be so stupid?”

WITHDRAWERS have their own methods.

Obviously, the approach is to duck the confrontation in any way possible. It’s about being too busy to talk and postponing the discussion. They mumble “Why don’t we talk about this another time?” Or they say, “Let’s not make a big deal out of this.”

When forced, they’ll often sidestep the issue. They do this by (1) changing the subject. Sometimes they sidestep by (2) interrupting and thus not allowing the other to finish the statement. They also do this by (3) crying, or (4) surrendering before the discussion is over. Withdrawers may also refuse to talk about it. They may ignore it, sulk, pout, or give the cold shoulder for days on end.

Both confronters and withdrawers use the tactic of sarcasm and ridicule. Both may be quick to jump to a conclusion. They try to read the other’s mind and grab the old standbys “always” and “never.” Or they use cold logic in refusing to deal with hot emotions.

If both partners are withdrawers, a marriage’s growth and intimacy are in great danger. If both are confronters, beware! The ideal seems to be to have one confronter and one withdrawer with both being willing to learn from the personality of the other.

But no matter what, it IS possible to marry your differing styles when there is conflict. It’s important to note:

Timing is Important

The confronter needs to learn timing, peacemaking, and tact. The avoider/withdrawer needs to learn honesty. Plus, they need the ability to share feelings, and discipline to face issues as they come up. Why? It’s in order to obey God. God tells us to “speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

This is both an admonition to unloving confronters to speak in LOVE, and also a command to avoiders to SPEAK.

Scripture abounds in instructions concerning conflict, such as:

Faithful are the wounds of a friend. (Proverbs 27:6)

Admonish one another with all wisdom.” (Colossians 3:16)

Keep short accounts.” (That is my translation of Ecclesiastes 8:11.) When the sentence for a crime is not carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.)

And If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. (Matthew 18:15)

These commands for all Christians are especially necessary between husbands and wives.

As you face conflict in your marriage, REMEMBER:

Here are Some “Remembers” That Can Help You to Resolve Conflict in Healthy Ways:

Whether we are withdrawers or confronters, God has established some rules for our behavior in the midst of conflict. Let me suggest a study in the book of Proverbs to find your own list; but here are a few principles from the Bible to start you off. Review them to prepare yourself when you know you’re heading into a conflict situation. First:

Remember to keep your cool.

Someone has said that emotions have to be cooled until the fight takes the form of a problem to be solved. As Proverbs puts it:

A fool is quick-tempered; a wise man stays cool when insulted. (Proverbs 12:16)

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.(Proverbs 14:29)

Remember to lower your voice instead of raising it.

A soft answer turns away wrath; but harsh words cause quarrels. (Proverbs 15:1)

A gentle tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.(Proverbs 15:4)


Remember to think before you speak.

Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.(Proverbs 29:20)

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

Remember to be kind and humble.

Pride leads to arguments. Be humble, take advice and become wise. (Proverbs 13:10)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.(1 Corinthians 13:4)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.(Colossians 3:12)

Additionally note:

Both withdrawers and confronters need godly maturity to avoid trying to “win” a battle.

Confronters want to win by overpowering the other person; yet God wouldn’t have us be guilty of either power-grabbing.

Avoiders try to win by silence. Not only must we be careful of our motive in a conflict, but we must avoid arguments that aren’t allowed to end.

…To fight—that’s okay. To fight fairly—that’s growth. But to fight with kindness and love —that’s grace!

We pray this helps. We also pray we will approach our conflicts in ways that help us to resolve them so draw closer to each other. And in the process, may we remember to work together to reveal and reflect the love of God!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.(1 John 4:7-8)

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

7 Essentials - Marriage book


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