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Handling Marital Conflict Seminar Handout
By Barrington H. Brennen

Go To Handling Conflict Article


"Contrary to popular belief, itís not how much you love each other that can best predict the future of your relationship, but how conflicts and disagreements are handled. Unfortunately, conflict is inevitable--it canít be avoided. So if you want to have a good marriage, you better learn to fight right." Fighting for Your Marriage

"David Olson of the University of Minnesota, who has studied over 15,000 married couples, recently said that 50% of married people will never be happy, unless they get unusually good therapy. Other researchers agree (Strean, 1985); about 30% of marriages are "empty shells"--little love, little talk, little joy. . . . Only about 25% of couples have "really good marriages." The remaining 25% could achieve a good marriage if they got therapy and/or really worked on obtaining the necessary skills via training or marriage enrichment (or, you can add, self-help). . . . ."Olson believes the needed skills and characteristics are: communication skills, conflict resolution skills, compatible personality, agreement on values and religion, and good sex."

"Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it."

These situations can in themselves cause conflict:
If you felt pressured to get married.
If you married someone not of your faith.
If you got married because your were lonely or frustrated.
If you married someone with a totally different view about life.
If you only got married to fulfill your sexual hunger.
If you go married for someone to fill your emotional or spiritual emptiness.
If you got married to someone who is sexually experienced.
If you got married so you can be a happy person,
If you married someone with children from another relationship.
If you married someone who is not as intelligent as you are.

A Key Cause of Marital Conflict "Surveys show that 80 percent of divorced couples in their twenties and thirties claim that financial problems were the major destructive factor in their marriages." Winter 1997-98 issue of Stewardship Journal.

84% of married couples say
"Having children reduces our marital satisfaction."
Dr. David Olsen

Arguing/Conflict affects women differently than men.

Ohio State University's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research

" . . . . Even after husbands and wives have stopped arguing, the battle may still be raging within the woman's body. It can do so for hours, altering her hormone levels and weakening her immune system to the point where illness could gain a foothold. . . . . "This discovery, based on a long-running study of newlywed couples, is forcing researchers to rethink their understanding of marital conflicts. It could also have important implications for the physical, as well as emotional, health of married couples. . . .Earlier research suggested that men generally seek to "tune out" their wives during an argument, seeking to escape or withdraw from the conflict. Wives, on the other hand, are seen as being more likely to complain, criticize or demand change in a relationship. The husband's withdrawal is acutely frustrating to these women.

Blood analysis showed that among women who reacted negatively to their husbands' withdrawal during the arguments, the average levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol and prolactin all rose. The more negative the wife's response and her husband's withdrawal, the greater the hormone level rise.

"If those hormone levels stay up long enough, it can have immune consequences," explained Ronald Glaser, professor of medical microbiology and immunology. Earlier work by Institute researchers has shown that psychological stress can cause weakened immune responses and a slowing of wound healing. . . . .We're not saying that conflicts in marriage are bad necessarily. They're completely normal. It's the way the couples disagreed that was later related to a rise in hormone levels and a drop in immune function."

How satisfied are you with your conflict resolution as a couple? "


"The way we handle the problems, more than the problems themselves, often can be the problem."

Top Five Stumbling Blocks Regarding Conflict Resolution.  "Empowering Couples"
1. One person ends up feeling responsible for the problem.
2. I go out of my way to avoid conflict with my partner.
3. Differences never seem to get resolved.
4. We have different ideas about the best way to solve disagreements.
5. We have serious disputes over unimportant issues.
Four types of specific patterns of conflictual interaction that often lead to marital problems. "Fighting for your Marriage"
1. Escalation Escalation occur when partners negatively responds back and forth to each other, continually upping the ante so that conditions get worse and worse.
2. Invalidation Invalidation is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. Sometimes such as comments, intentionally or unintentionally, lower the self-esteem of the targeted person.
3. Withdrawal & Avoidance
4. Negative Interpretations When one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than is really the case.

Kinds of Anger:  Anger, Rage, hatred, aggression, resentment, hostility.  Anger itself is not the problem.  The problem is when anger turns to rage, hatred, aggression, resentment, hostility.  Healthy anger is simple letting you know that something is not right.

Conflict Resolution Styles  "Empowering Couples"

1. Pursuers seek to created connections so they can become more intimate and close. Because talking and expressing feelings is important to them , the tend to feel rejected by their partner if the partner wants more space. When the partner . . . in their lives withdraws, pursuers will tend to pursue more intensely."

2. Distancers tend to be emotionally distant. They often manage stress by retreating into their work and may terminate a relationship when things become to intense. They are less likely to open up emotionally when they feel they are being pursued.

3. Underfunctioners typically have several areas in their lives in which they just canít seem to get organized. They tend to become even less organized when under stress. They have difficulty displaying their strong and competent side in intimate relationships.

4. Overfunctioners are quick to advise and help out when others are having problems. They often have difficulty showing their vulnerable, underfunctioning side.

5. Blamers tend to react to stress with emotional intensity and combative behavior. They like to change others and to put others down in order to make themselves look good.


What to do?

1. Be Committed to Preserve Your Marriage Covenant  The first rule in handling marital conflicts successfully is to be totally committed to preserving your marriage covenant. It is only within the context of a loving and irrevocable commitment that marital conflicts can be successfully resolved.

2. Be Honest and Fair in Handling the Conflict

3. Be Willing to Forgive and to Forget   The only way to bring a conflict which has gotten out of control to a satisfactory end, is for one partner to break the retaliation cycle by forgiving the other partner for the hurt received. In Christian marriages forgiveness must be patterned after the forgiveness Christ offers us.


Guideline for fair fighting

Fight by mutual consent
Stick to the present
Stick to the subject
Don't hit below the belt
Donít quit; work it out
Donít try to win, EVER
Respect Crying
Non violence

Techniques for fair fighting

Keep your anger under control
Set a time and place for discussion
Define the problem or issue of disagreement. Discuss before resolving.
Talk about how each of you contributes to the problem.
List past attempts to resolve the issue that were unsuccessful.
Brainstorm ten new ways to resolve the conflict
Discuss and evaluate these possible solutions
Agree on one solution and try.
Agree on how each of your will work toward this solution.
Set up another meeting to discuss your progress.
Reward each other as you each contribute toward the solution.


The Speaker-Listener Technique  Important technique to reduce possible marital conflict
Rules for both of you: Speaker has the floor, Share the floor, No problem solving.
Rules for the speaker: Speak for yourself, Donít go on and on, Stop and let the listener paraphrase.
Rules for the listener: Paraphrase what you hear, Focus on the speakerís message, Donít rebut.

"The goal of marriage is not to think alike, but to think together."



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Permission is granted to place links from these articles on social media like Google+, FaceBook, etc..   Permission is also granted to print these pages and to make the necessary copies for your personal use, friends, seminar, or meeting handout. You must not sell for personal gain, only to cover the cost to make copies if necessary.    Written permission (email) is needed to publish or reprint articles and materials in any other form.    Articles are written by Barrington H. Brennen, Counseling Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist.

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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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