4 Destructive Marriage Conflict Resolution Strategies- Are you ruining your marriage?

Marriage conflict scare you?

Do you avoid it or embrace it?

Most, marriage couples therapists would say that husbands and wives should encounter marriage conflict.

poor marriage conflict resolution strategiesIf they don’t ever dispute then that’s a problem!

Conflict avoidance results in unresolved issues, emotional distancing and could potentially even lead to divorce and/or infidelity.

Of course constant fighting and bickering paves the way for resentment and hatred.

According to Dr. Larry Alan Nadig how effectively we manage our marriage conflict resolution strategies determines if our disputes end productively or destructively.

He says that marriage conflict events can sway our love for each other in opposite directions.

  1. We either gain a deeper understanding of one another or…
  2. We continue to misunderstand, disagree and grow apart.

So we can work as a team or as two separate individuals digging our feet into the ground resisting to give ground from our stubborn view points.

Today’s post sheds light on WHAT NOT TO DO and here are the post’s topics (press a link to jump to any section)

The 4 Destructive Marriage Conflict Resolution Strategiesjump links

1. Combative Body Language
2. “The Four Horsemen”: the Four Stages of Negativity and Escalating Tension to the Point of No Return
3. Unhealthy Conflict Resolution Styles and Mistakes
4. Lack of Emotional Intelligence

Infidelity and Destructive Marriage Conflict Resolution Techniques

He cheated. You want to keep your marriage. Problem is you don’t trust him and up to this point all the arguing and disagreeing hasn’t brought positive change.

So what will you do? Give up?

Or find some new techniques to improve your marriage conflict resolution skills to bridge the communication gap and get the relationship you always wanted or maybe the one you used to have?

And look, obviously people cheat for multiple reasons.

But what led to your spouse’s affair?

Have you both pushed each other apart?

Did a breakdown of communication between you both lead to emotional distancing? Or does your spouse have severe personality flaws (serial cheater traits) that will lead to future repeat cheating?

Will He/She Work with You to Resolve the Marriage Conflict or Choose to Avoid It

I about coughed up my heart when I first saw all those out-of-state phone numbers on our phone records after she promised never to communicate with the first strange guy from NY. All the questions on the list above raced through my mind. So when I scoured the internet for immediate answers Dr. Bob Huizenga’s soothing words in his book, “Break Free from the Affair” relieved me.

“It’s not your fault.” (That my spouse cheated on me.)

And he knows. He personally wrote me recently revealing he too lived through an extramarital affair.

Of his 7 Types of Affairs, 2 of them fit my ex-wife’s affair well.

Number #7 “I want to be close to someone” (which means I can’t stand intimacy) starting on page 62 describes an affair when some people struggle to join their life with their spouse’s after marrying to create oneness while desiring to live their own separate life at the same time.  They like the comfort of companionship but not the intimacy of sharing. They want their own space. I guess the old phrase, “They want to have their cake and eat it too,” applies well here.

Click for the 7 Types of Affairs Cheat Sheet. Which type did your spouse commit?

Someone who does not feel comfortable sharing intimate details and pushes you away to pursue a secret life on the side with an outsider would most likely prefer to avoid conflict, not embrace it. Improving their marriage conflict resolution techniques never pops up on their radar.

My wife chose flight over fight. Literally. She flew off to run into another man’s arms rather than fight for our marriage.

3 Destructive Marriage Conflict Resolution Strategies

You’ve probably seen these communication stats that litter the internet.

Did you know that 55% of effective communication comes from non-verbal cues, 38% from tone of voice and just 7% from spoken words. Yes, you read that right- just 7% of the effective messages you communicate with your wife or husband occurs through the words you choose to speak!

Communication is tough.

We vastly underestimate the effort required to successfully delivery the message so the listener interprets it exactly the way we intended.

So if you wish to take charge of your marriage after his or her affair let’s take a look at various components of communication and the poor interpersonal skills techniques NOT to follow.

What pushes married couples apart?

1. Combative Body Language

She shrugs her shoulders, turns herself away, and lets out a dismissive grunt.

Think you’re making progress with her?

No, obviously not, but sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Shrugging shoulders, turning your back and primitive noise making.

According to what  I’ve read regarding body language, two critical elements reveal plenty about how someone feels about your telling them: 1) distancing themselves from you; 2) how long they maintain eye contact with you.

Identifying just these two relationship body language cues tell you if you’re scoring points with your spouse during an argument or losing them hand over fist.

I ran across author Deanne Rosenberg’s review of  her book “From Rage To Resolution,” she claims when body language clues mismatch your spouse’s spoken words she’s hinting that she either disagrees or feels uncomfortable with her surroundings.

9 Combative Body Language Cues…that Block Effective Communication Progress

Decipher body language to understand the real message

  1.  Dismissive eye rolling. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anything new to say this time? Blah, blah, blah.”
  2. Mumbling responses. Your partner doesn’t agree. “Whatever you say.” They don’t care to resolve the issue.
  3.  Fidgeting. “Um. I don’t really agree with you, but I’ll go along with it just to get this conservation over with.”
  4.  Grinding teeth. Feeling agitated. “I’m not feeling this.”
  5.  Pacing back and forth. “Please shut up. I don’t agree.” They want to distance themselves from you or end whatever you’re talking about.
  6.  Hands clench, then unclench. Anger grows deeper and deeper. Ready to blow.
  7.  Widened eyes. “Yeah, I really disagree with what you are saying. Please stop talking.”
  8.  Crossing arms. “You’re testing my patience.  I’ll pretend to care about what you are talking about.”
  9.  Face becomes red. Intense anger. “I’m REALLY upset.”

Effective body language decoding comprises of skill and practice. So take this sample list of basic body language cues as simply a glimpse into the importance of reading them to interpret the underlying message.

What one basic body language cue means to you may mean something different to your spouse.

You might decipher looking away as a sign she feels uncomfortable with what you are saying. But to her she simply is taking her time processing what you are telling her in order to come up with a proper response.

What one basic body language cue means to you may mean something different to your spouse.

No doubt that you would reap many benefits of studying effective body language decoding to add to your successful repertoire of successful marriage conflict resolution techniques.

Ignore those basic body language cues to focus only on the words he says and don’t be shocked when the majority of your episodes of marriage conflict ends unresolved.

Conversely avoiding to filter the words that come out of your mouth and you could push your partner further and further away.

2. “The Four Horsemen”: Focus on Negativity Turns to Escalating Tension

In my research I came across 4 ways unhealthy marriage relationships poorly manage their marriage conflict and send their once mutually caring bond spiraling downward.

World-renown professor Dr. John Gottman, who focuses on marital stability and relationship analysis, refers to these 4 destructive marriage conflict resolution techniques as the “Four Horsemen

Many of us hit a period of our relationship when we only seemed to fight and bicker. Sometimes we experience these periods in a temporary series of episodes.

But what about when these negative bouts of marriage conflict do not stop?

We complain to our spouse how they failed to do their part or pinpoint to them a personality trait we feel is flawed.

No longer do we sit next to each other at the same side of the “bargaining table” to work out our differences. Instead we throw on proverbial boxing gloves and insulting shots at one another.

What happens if we never identify the emotions and reactions that led to this ongoing fighting?

Dr. Gottman believes we start a chain reaction of negative communication that follows a sequence that leads to a point we become blind to working out peaceful solutions and entrench ourselves in a sort of marital battlefield.

We risk losing our happiness forever.

The Four Horsemen Stages

1. The First Four Horsemen: CRITICISM

The first stage of the Gottman’s Four Horsemen is criticism.

We all will feel disappointed about a certain our spouse’s behavior from time to time. Highlighting a specific behavior such as your husband spending more money than you agreed on for recreation.

Maybe he loves golf and you both agreed on a set monthly dollar amount your budget allows for him to spend. But three months in a row he increases his golf budget by an average of 25%.

Yes, you have the right to bring this up. You might even complain about his failure to stick to budget. Gottman believes complaining is a healthy way of airing your differences.

The problem arrives when the complaining turns into regular criticizing of your husband’s character instead of an isolated behavior, such as overspending on golf.

There’s a big difference between:

Complaint: “Honey, I feel disappointed you’ve gone past your golf budget three consecutive months now.”

Insulting Criticism:  “You are so wasteful with out money! Don’t you care about this relationship?!

The worst level of criticizing you can reach is over generalizing your spouse’s character.

Criticizing with Insulting Generalizations: “You never pay attention to how much you spend on golf. Why don’t you ever take that extra money to take me out on a surprise date? Do you care more about going out with your friends than you do going out with me?”

Sound familiar?

All that unresolved marriage conflict results in your built up anger and turns into personal attacks on your spouse. When married couples do not compromise their complaints the complaints intensify into personal attacks.

Instead of feeling bad that his poor choice of overspending on golf takes away from using that money towards other things now he feels like a complete failure towards your entire relationship.

He feels like his stress outlet to golf endangers his marriage is just one more unhappy brick to add to your entire unhappy wall.

He just wants to run and hide.

Be wary of overgeneralizing words “never” and “always”.

When your destructive marriage conflict resolution techniques follow a regular routine of personal attack criticism you then pass the door into the next stage of the Four Horsemen.

2. The Second of the Four Horsemen: CONTEMPT

From disappointment about a particular situation to lobbying insulting bombs on your spouse, your marriage conflict turns into a war of words.

You lose all confidence and hope that you both can work out your differences that you feel contempt and disgust in their mere presence.

You don’t attempt to get what you want in an argument you aim to hurt and bruise their ego and sense of pride.

Negative thoughts about your spouse peak to an all time high. You wonder how you even ended up together. You might even begin daydreaming about your exit strategy.

Examples of Contempt/Personal Attacks

  • Disdainful body language: rolling eyes and walking away disgusted, holding your ears, looking away as if to say what he says is nonsense.
  • Insulting with pain-invoking intent: stupid, lazy, worthless, boring, cheap, not-manly, broke-minded.
  • Poking fun of something that your spouse admires about themselves.
  • Bringing up what you don’t like about your spouse.
  • Pointing out their weaknesses.

You can summarize contempt as taking cheap shots.

At this point rather than neutralizing the attacks and attempting to understand where your spouse’s anger and hurt stem from you react like a victim. This further separates the two of you apart. One on one side of the fence alone, and the other on the other side.

You might even look to build an army of sympathetic supporters to take your side.

Your mom or best friend provide negative moral support and tell you how much you do not need to deal with your spouse’s inadequacies.

Your destructive marriage conflict resolution techniques take yet another negative hit and trot farther down the opposite direction to the road to recovery.

Your marriage now arrives to the third stage of the Four Horsemen.

3. The Third of the Four Horseman: DEFENSIVENESS

You both feel victimized.

In a real fight if you feel under attack how would you react? 

You’d lift your hands to protect yourself, right?

Would that help calm your opponent down or instigate their anger even more?

It doesn’t matter who started the fight you always have a choice to seek peace or join the fight.

Despite your husband or wife’s now routine personal attacks, their anger perhaps stems from some of your specific behaviors that displease them. Rather than identify and specifically detail them out to you (which they may have attempted before your marriage displayed signs of entering the Four Horsemen) he or she has given up hope of a peaceful compromise.

Now he/she just pounds you with cheap shots.

You could attempt to halt the fight and find out what those specific behaviors are. Instead you choose to sulk in your own sorrow and fight back. You do not look at the bigger picture.

The bigger picture: your loving relationship is in jeopardy, you head faster towards separation or divorce.

The first step to fix this negative coexistence is to take notice of the defensive signs.

The Four Horsemen Defensive Signs

  • Avoiding to Accept Responsibility. You don’t accept responsibility for angering or disappointing your spouse. You do not wish to take any blame for the ongoing marriage conflict.
  • Fight fire with fire. You retaliate with more insults. Instead of working to end the mutual hurt you intend to inflict pain to feel justified.
  • Excuse making. You blame other people, things or circumstances for your behaviors or way of being.
  • Raising voice, repeating. You take your stance. You shout louder and repeat everything you just said in attempt to bully your way to win the argument. You make no attempt to understand your wife or husband’s viewpoint or opinion.

Want to stop the fighting?

Don’t throw gasoline on the fire. Don’t extend the fight by acting defensively and attacking back.

End this domino effect of negative marriage conflict. Do not get to the fourth and final of the Four Horsemen.

It could result in irreparable damage to your marriage.

Trust me. I found out first hand.

My Personal Experience with the Four Horsemen

I recognize all these signs of the Four Horsemen. I experienced them in my first marriage amidst a struggle of negative marriage conflict.

Here’s the worst part, the even bigger, scarier possibility.


When pushed to the edge in a marriage many people become more vulnerable to cheat.

When feeling trapped many people may look for another partner outside the marriage to feel appreciated. This could even be a subconscious feeling.

I believe most extramarital emotional affairs start this way.

I fell into an emotional affair effortlessly. I didn’t even know it what hit me until I was tangled in emotional web I had no idea how to untie.

The emotional affair turned into a full-fledged relationship and then into a physical one.

It felt good to feel appreciated again.

A polar opposite experience from what I lived in my daily, often times emotional hostile, marriage at the time.

We paced through those first three horsemen criticism, contempt, defensiveness over and over for a long time. I stayed loyal to my wife for years, but the anger and mistrust stewed in a pot of negativity.

Neither of us took any serious steps to resolve our never-ending marriage conflict.

I just figured time would heal and it would just go away.

My defensiveness to her attacks to straighten out my career, help her with the chores around the house and learn to solve my own problems did not prevent more attacks.

Instead I allowed the marriage to reach the final horsemen.

4. The Fourth Four Horsemen: STONEWALLING

No more defensive, knee-jerk reactions.

No more return insults.

Just one spouse screaming at the other who acts like a stone wall.

The stonewaller spouse decides they want no part of the fight nor a compromise for peace.

They just emotionally remove themselves from any heated marriage conflict. Destructive conflict resolution efforts have almost reached their peak.

Two spouses physically present in a room, one emotionally present, the other absent.

At this point it will take a bigger effort to undo all the hate before you could even begin the healing process.

Do you remember what it felt like to be in love at first?

Do you remember why you wanted to marry your spouse to begin with?

Time to reminisce of those happy days.

3. Poor Conflict Resolution Styles and Mistakes

What style of marital conflict resolution strategy do you and your wife practice?

Marriage conflict provides that opportunity to break through those differences to figure out how to get along or slide down long slippery slope.

Disputes in marriage, as we’ve discussed through out this post, do not signify dangerous red flags of doom, rather a sign you care so much about each other you choose to work together. If you didn’t care you would just leave.

Marriage conflict arises from many different human needs such as feeling loved, feeling like we have companionship and will not end up alone, wanting financial safety, desiring excitement by traveling and enjoying weekend outings.

As we all found out marriage often times turns routine and mundane.

Here are some common unhealthy resolution styles.

Destructive Conflict Management Styles

  • Avoiding or pretending no conflict exists. You ignore or brush off your wife for asking you to cut the lawn and trim the bushes.
  • Seeking to win and be right, not compromise a peaceful solution. You push your husband to agree with you that your way of designing a budget makes sense since you took advanced accounting classes and you won’t give in until he agrees.
  • Giving up. You don’t like fights. You’d rather let your wife have her way than state your side.
  • Manipulation. Your husband tries to make you believe his new traveling job will benefit you too since it will give you more time with your friends and make the family more money. Secretly he wants feel more important with the promotion. He’s not considering your feelings.

I could list several more styles, but if the conflict resolution style doesn’t take your spouse’s feelings into consideration you will likely breed contempt over time.

You will unlikely both win evenly, but overall if you both come out winners you will both feel treated fairly.

What happens when you think you approach a dispute fairly, but your spouse claims to feel cheated?

Whose fault is it?

Have you monitored all the circumstances?

Are you doing anything to negatively affect the conflict’s outcome?

10 More Common Conflict Resolution Mistakes

  1. Avoiding bringing up something that bothers you to your spouse until you can’t take it anymore and want to explode.
  2. Starting an argument before gathering all the details.
  3. Making stiff demands, not allowing your flexibility to let your spouse get what he/she wants too.
  4. Rigid thinking that your way is the only way to get something done.
  5. Not proactively asking about your spouse’s feelings, jumping to conclusions why they decided to do something or not do it.
  6. Bringing up other problems before finishing the first one.
  7. Talking over your spouse and not listening. Assuming your spouse has nothing important to add.
  8. Hearing what your wife says, but not processing the details to get a sense of why she feels the way she does.
  9. Judging present actions based on past events.
  10. Allowing your own securities to sabotage the negotiations. Being secretly jealous about your wife’s career success and arguing why she shouldn’t take the promotion.

4. Lack of Emotional Intelligence

Ever hear of emotional intelligence before (or EQ- emotional quotient)?

While a high IQ could help you problem solve logical challenges (mathematics, mechanical problems, scientific experiments, financial data) a high EQ could help you overcome or avoid problems in relationships.

The theory behind emotional intelligence focuses on 4 skills: interpreting emotions, applying emotions, understanding emotions, sensing emotions and managing emotions. If you harness and wield these 4 skills you increase the odds of guiding marriage conflict in your relationship to a regular positive outcome.

The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

These skills represent your ability to perceive what your spouse feels, know how to respond appropriately, anticipate what your partner will feel based on the circumstances and how to control your own anxiety or excitement in order to avoid sabotaging your own efforts to resolve a dispute.

These abilities comprise of your interpersonal skills, your way of relating to others. And without them you may find it challenging to identify, avoid or resolve many disagreements or fights in a relationship. Two people intimately involved in a relationship, especially a marriage bring many differences to the table. Each person potentially comes from different backgrounds, display different opinions about money, religion, politics, have different habits and so on.

How do you negotiate these differences without tearing each other apart?

Emotional intelligence determines how diplomatically you act and come across to your mate.

A lack of these relational skills would only result in unresolved and on-going problems. And then it’d only be a matter of time before the two of you begin to experience emotional distancing. You just grow tired of pushing to understand one another.

It would feel like swimming upstream.

It Only Takes One

The chances of both people in a relationship possessing an equal ability to keep a cool head and finding a peaceful resolution is slim

However, it only takes one person to guide the ship.


If you are interested at all in reading up on this subject and doing your own in-depth research I recommend picking up a copy of “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goleman.

7 Signs of Lack of Emotional Intelligence in Relationships

If you haven’t figured out by now, people do not always say what they mean. Most of the time when someone is upset they will not come right out and tell you exactly what is on their mind.

People who lack a high emotional intelligence tend to allow outside disturbances affect their decisions in their relationships. They blame others and other things for their choices.

Read some of the indications below that someone has trouble with interpersonal skills.

  1. Can’t tell the difference between realty and feelings
  2. Very reactive. Needs affirmation from others to make them feel good.
  3. Pursues attention of others often.
  4. Quick to anger, no filter of what they say. Does not fear consequences for what they say.
  5. Trouble understanding why others do not see their side.
  6. Seems to thrive on relationship drama and chaos.
  7. Needs relationships with other for identity and worth.

Other References

Relationship Conflict: Healthy or Unhealty

Conflict Resolution Mistakes to Avoid

Emotional Intelligence in Relationships





  1. […] their problems, they choose running. How serious of a relationship can you have with a person with conflict resolution problems? Secretive, in my experience married to a serial cheater, is one of the most toxic people […]

  2. […] my post about the 4 destructive marriage conflict resolution […]

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