Understanding, Identifying And Handling Marital Conflict

Working On the Marriage | | , Feature Writer & Editor
Updated On: October 5, 2023
Handling Marital Conflict

For all you romantics out there, here are a few sobering statistics on divorce in America. According to data provided by Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, a family law attorney firm, every 13 seconds, there is one divorce in the US.

Let’s rub it in further with this statistics! There are 277 divorces per hour, 6,646 legal splits per day, 46,523 per week and 2,419,196 divorces take place annually. Fact: It means there are nine divorces in the time a couple normally takes to recite their wedding vows (which is about two minutes). The reasons for such high rates for divorces can rooted in two words: Marital conflict.

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This term encompasses all the grounds why a relationship begins in church and ends in court – lack of communication, infidelity, arguments, unrealistic expectations and in some extreme forms, abuse. All of these issues are common causes of marital conflict.

And an utter lack of understanding, identifying and handling marital conflict is what ultimately results in a breakup.

What Is Marital Conflict?

Dating, courtship and even a wedding are wonderful stages in a relationship. So what happens when a couple gets married? Why do conflicts in marriage creep in despite the love that a man and woman initially had for each other?

To understand conflicts, it’s essential to accept a few facts about marriage. The marital conflict theory says that there is NO relationship that is smooth.

“Do not walk into a marriage assuming things will be exactly the way they show in movies or soaps or during your dating days. Arguments and disagreements are a part and parcel of married what makes a difference is how to tackle them,” says Sushma Parlekar, a relationship counselor and NLP trainer.

If negative traits like belittling your partner, constantly arguing with him or her, showing little or no respect, inability to handle financial and emotions stress, and of course, infidelity are what defines your relationship then conflicts are a given.

Not understanding, identifying and handling these marital conflicts maturely and in a timely manner lead to these problems piling up thus exacerbating stress and pressure on a relationship.

Conflict basically arises when both partners have very different views, needs and desires and none of them are ready to adjust for the other. The consequences of marital conflict are felt not just on the particular relationship but also on the entire family, children and close friends.

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How To Identify The Triggers Of Marital Conflict

As with everything else, marital conflicts don’t just erupt all of a sudden. There are often layers to peel to understand the real causes.

Chris Grace, Director, Biola University’s Centre for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology says that it is essential to understand the emotional response behind every reaction. “Pay attention to your emotional response. If you are angry or upset with your spouse, don’t just say, ‘I am angry…’, identify the reasons for your anger,” he advises.

It is important to understand the triggers because it is essential to get to the root of the problem for proper marriage conflict resolution.

This is also important because sustained problems in a relationship can impact your health adversely. In a review of the physiological studies of marital interaction, researchers Kiecolt-Glaser and Newton found that conflicts in a marriage has a bad impact on the health of wives in relation to their husbands.

In fact, the effect of conflict in marriage, especially ones in which a problem had stretched for years, makes couples more vulnerable to physiological stress and subsequent health problems.

Everything that happens in a marriage is a response to certain triggers that come from the subconscious. So how do you identify triggers of marital conflict? See if the below list resonates…

1.  Outlook towards family responsibilities

Sharing chores, paying bills, doing the dishes, planning finances… a difference of opinion in basic household duties can be huge triggers for conflicts between couples.

conflict in marriage
Conflicts between couples are common

2. Patterns of parenting

Most couples squabble over parenting issues, especially if both are equally invested in bringing up the child. If one parent believes in being too strict and the other in being too lax, it can lead to massive conflicts.

3. Handling finances

Fights resulting out of lack of money or difference in attitude towards money are prime marital conflict examples. It is best if you and your spouse discuss how you are going to invest or handle finances before you get into a marriage.

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4. Unequal power equations

A paper on marital conflict by Frank D Fincham, from Psychology Department, University of Buffalo, NY cites power inequity as one of the reasons for marital conflict. When a man or woman feels disrespected or belittled in a marriage, it leads to dissatisfaction.

5. Extramarital affairs

In the afore-mentioned report that highlights the statistics on conflict in marriage leading to divorce, lack of commitment accounted to 73% divorces while infidelity was blamed for 55%. In most relationships, infidelity is the ultimate deal breaker.

Related Reading: I knew my husband was cheating on me, yet I kept quiet

5 Ways To Handle Marital Conflict

The above list is just a small one when you consider the various causes of martial conflict. Sexual issues, problematic drinking, selfishness, an inability to compromise or adjust are all triggers for conflicts that get reflected in different ways.

According to researcher and psychologist John Gottman, conflict in marriage is inevitable but what needs to be seen is if couples can get over them and can agree to disagree or if they escalate it. The problem is not based on the trigger but depends on the likelihood of resolution of those arguments.

1. Hear your spouse’s needs

You may be talking to each other a lot, interacting every single day and sharing cute Whatsapp forwards. But are you really listening to your spouse or just hearing them out of compulsion?

Writers and marriage counselors Mark and Susan Merrill advise couples to remember that they are essentially a team. “When you are really listening to each other, learn to take communication in context,” they add.

“If your spouse is suddenly rude or says something nasty, remember the context in which he or she said it. Maybe your partner is stressed or has something on their mind,” they say. Sometimes, rude or angry words are often a camouflage for a deeper problem.

2. Accept and adjust to differences

Opposites attract is the biggest cliché as far as relationships are concerned. Your opposite quality that attracted you to your boyfriend or girlfriend in the first place might be the cause of marital conflicts between the two of you once you say “We do”.

Ideally understand your differences more than your similarities. While differences in habits and certain personality traits can be handled as times goes by, if there is a difference at the core value, the chances of marriage conflict resolution would be less.

So say if you lean towards democrats and your husband is a hardcore Republican, the house might resemble a battlefield as election date nears. If you have shared values it becomes easier to tide over minor differences. Try and adjust to your differences in order to manage conflicts more maturely.

3. Learn to play it fair

So you have a problem with your spouse and decide to talk it out. Great, that’s the first step in resolving marital conflicts. But now comes the big challenge – can you control your response and emotions during the big conversation?

Even if your chat turns into an argument (there are chances it might!), learn to play it fair. Express your misgivings or apprehensions candidly and give your partner an equal chance to present his side. Focus on the issue on hand without dragging the past and future. Stay civil and resist the temptation to call each other names.

Fighting and arguing in a civil manner can be difficult when your emotions run high. But if your ultimate aim is to find a solution, then your discussions would naturally be mature even though you may be outing some really awkward issues.

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4. Try and see your partner’s perspective

marital conflict
Try to understand your partner’s viewpoint

When you have a problem with your spouse, understandably, all the emotions are directed at yourself and suddenly the entire situation becomes about you – your pain, your hurt, your anger. Calm down. Learn to look at a situation holistically and that includes your partner’s point of view.

This means giving him the benefit of the doubt and understanding it logically. Step into his shoes for a change and see if he deserves another chance.

This does not mean you do not express your displeasure about something but don’t come to a conclusion without all facts.

Needless to say, if there is repeated misbehavior or if your partner deliberately refuses to change, you might just tire of being the one who takes a broader perspective. But if you think your spouse has genuinely made a mistake, learn to forgive and forget.

5. Look within and take responsibility

When we ask you to take responsibility, it doesn’t mean taking the blame. When there is a marital conflict, ask yourself if you have contributed to it in any way. At times, you might have added to the stress unconsciously by some behaviour that your spouse may have found annoying.

The tendency to blame others for one’s own problems is natural but if you haven’t made any efforts to realistically find a solution, it is unfair to blame your spouse alone. For eg, do you always insist on getting your way? Do you think you are always right? Do you like to make decisions on their behalf?

Learn to look within and give yourself a reality check. An honest assessment of your own desires and behaviours can lead to managing marital conflicts better. If both partners are willing to do this, it can potentially save a marriage from going down under.

Related Reading: Relationship Counselling – Everything You Need To Know

Understanding, analysing, being aware of and then managing marital conflicts requires a lot of effort. If your marriage is based on trust, honesty and love, these efforts will come organically to you. Ultimately, the value that you place on your relationship will determine if want to fritter it way or work towards preserving its sanctity by not allowing conflicts get the better of your love.


1. What causes marital conflict?

Anything and everything can cause marital conflicts. But prime reasons are unreasonable and unmet expectations, infidelity and betrayal, monetary problems, parenting conflicts, lack of sexual intimacy, belittling behaviour on part of one of the partners and a feeling of inadequacy.

2. What are the types of marital conflict?

There are various types of marital conflicts that include giving each other the silent treatment, constant arguing, being jealous, using sarcasm to hit back, criticism and contempt and using kids to control your spouse.

3. What are the rules of conflict resolution in marriage?

To resolve conflicts, learn to listen to your spouse, give yourself a reality check and see if you have knowingly or unknowingly played a part in escalating the conflict. Also learn to adjust to the inevitable different points of view that will emerge in a marriage.

4. What is the best way to handle differences in marriage?

Learning to look at situations from the spouse’s point of view, developing the trait of seeing a situation holistically, learning how to argue in a civil manner without resorting to the blame-game or name-calling and seeking a counsellor’s help if problems go out of hand are some of the ways to handle differences in marriage.

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