Handling Perpetual Marital Conflict

Marital Conflict or Understanding What We are Arguing About


            All marriages have conflict.  It is a mistake to try avoiding conflict.  In fact, avoiding conflict is not genuine and can lead to greater problems down the road.  The real issue is how to handle conflict in a way that provides a win/win or mutually satisfying solution for both spouses.  Conflict handled well can be very rewarding and lead to a very healthy marriage.

            Authors Tim and Joy Downs suggest that there are four types of conflict (Downs, 2003).  First, couples who are just married tend to settle arguments quickly by simply deferring to each other.  This is the “have it you way” method of handling conflict.  After a while couples grow tired to giving in which leads to the “have it my way” style of conflict.  They still want peace—but they slowly realize that there is such a thing as “peace at any price.”  Because a spouse may feel taken advantage of this means of resolving conflict is very assertive and thus very tiring.  When couples tire out from butting heads this lead to the third phase that is the “have it OUR way” phase.  The third phase is a state of compromise and negotiation when couples begin to realize that if they can just put their heads together instead of banging them together, they might be able to work out their differences.  In this phase, there is listening, positive discussion and compromise.  This allows a couple to experience the fourth phase, which is the “have it any way you want” phase.  This is the time when the couple has negotiated and compromised on an exhausting number of minor preferences and desires.  At this point, the couple will need to recognize that there is a difference between resolvable conflicts and conflicts that are perpetual. This means they will be a part of their lives forever, in some form or another.  Gottman estimates that almost 70 percent of marital conflicts are perpetual.  He goes on to predict that only three out of ten marital disagreements will have a tidy solution (Gottman, 1999).

            Perpetual conflicts are underlying issues that are the root cause of most marriage conflict.  The seven conflicts are security, loyalty, responsibility, caring, order, openness, and connection.  Here is how this works out.  Disagreements over money are often not about money, but about security.  In-law arguments are really questions of loyalty and whose side you are on.  When you are concerned about what others think conflict around responsibility occurs.  The secret to caring is found in awareness and initiative.  Conflicts over order have to do with the structure of the marriage and who is in charge.  Connection is effected by the various ways we communicate.  Knowing more about these seven conflicts help to identify where spouses stand in relation to each of the seven issues and to each other.

Works Cited

Downs, T. and J. (2003). The Seven Conflicts. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Gottman, J. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Three Rivers Press.