Conflicts in relationships are expected, and can even be a good thing. Once a you tie the knot, you can no longer slam the car door and drive away from the situation never to look back again. Understanding types of marital conflicts can help when you face uncertain moments in your marriage. While married couples argue about many things, what matters more is how you treat each other while you are in the conflict. There are both healthy and unhealthy conflict styles, and research shows that conflict levels stay relatively constant throughout marriage.
Healthy Conflict Styles
There are three healthy types of conflict within a marriage: validating, volatile and conflict avoiding, writes John Gottman. When a couple handles conflict in a validating way, each member seeks to appease the other in a peaceful way with the goal of attaining compromise.
For others, marriage exists with less than perfect harmony, but that does not mean all is lost. A volatile conflict style often comes with passionate and emotional arguments.
Conflict avoiding couples "agree to disagree" said Gottman. Each of these conflict styles has merit and can contribute to a healthy relationship.
Unhealthy Conflict Style
Gottman describes an unhealthy conflict as "hostile" and relationships often go awry when they reach this level. Gottman lists criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling as four elements that occur within a hostile marriage. Criticism and contempt are each offensive in nature, with one partner attacking the other whether directly or indirectly. Defensiveness causes at least one member to bob and weave among a myriad of excuses, while a stonewalling individual completely shuts down and refuses to discuss disagreements. Each of these elements can tear down the basic principles of communication and respect between members of a married couple, leading to distrust.
Conflict Stays the Same
Current research indicates that the way most couples start out fighting will be the way that they continue. In a column Lee Dye wrote for ABC News, he cites research that Claire Kemp Dush conducted on the consistency of conflict throughout marriage. Dye concluded that "conflict is always going to be there, in about the same intensity, over the long haul." In other words, if a couple fights before they are married, chances are great they will continue, and they will probably continue with the same conflict style.
The Long Haul
While unhealthy conflicts contain the potential to destroy a marriage, couples can combat these forces through communication, honesty, and compromise. A couple that chooses to marry intertwines many aspects of their lives. If you find yourself struggling no matter how hard you try, couples counseling and couples retreats may help you get back on track.