11 Deadly Types of Marital Conflict You Should Avoid


types of marital conflict Middle Class Dad chess game with a queen taking out a king

All couples have disagreements. But while I’ve been married for well over a decade I still wonder about how to avoid the different types of marital conflict.

Here’s what I’ve learned in over a decade of marriage:

The types of marital conflicts include: inappropriate use of technology, jealousy and being controlling, the silent treatment, sexually destructive behavior, using kids as a weapon, money fights, criticism and contempt, addiction, abuse, and using sex or intimacy (or the lack of) as a means of control.

Let’s face it, anything from forgetting to wash the dishes to spending more time with friends than a spouse can be cause for complaint.

Communicating about annoyances or issues in the relationship are perfectly natural and healthy ways for couples to express themselves and learn to problem-solve in a mature and respectful manner.

But there are certain circumstances where marital conflict can turn deadly – either to the relationship or to a spouse.

That’s why we’re looking at 11 deadly types of marital conflict you should avoid at all cost.

co-authored with Rachael Pace, marriage and relationship expert over at Marriage.com.

The best place to start getting the conflicts out of your marriage is by watching this free video (click to watch on their site) by marriage guru Brad Browning.

Brad has helped thousands of couples fall back in love and save their marriage and I bet he can help you too.

He explains where you’ve been going wrong. But more importantly. what you need to do to make your wife fall back in love with you.

What is marital conflict?

ALL marriages have struggles and all couples disagree or have arguments sometimes.

That is totally normal.

What isn’t normal or healthy are the types of behavior and conflicts that get destructive either to themselves or their spouse.

Deadly conflicts in a marriage are not just a difference of opinion. 

Instead, it’s often an ongoing behavioral pattern that is so destructive it crumbles away the love and support once present in the marriage. 

We sometimes see these types of marriage conflicts fester for years and replacing love, affection, tenderness with bitterness, critical sarcasm, anger, apathy, and eventually hate.

Ultimately selfishness and insecurity are at the root of most of this kind of behavior.

To fix a marriage before it’s too late we have to:

  • Forgive the past (not forget, but forgive and start fresh)
  • Put aside pride and ego
  • Understand that both people likely played a role in causing the damage

The real key is to start to do that work before it’s too late.

Many couples are turned off by the thought of “working” on your marriage, but Marriage IS Hard Work (click to read my article to see the difference between hard work and misery). That doesn’t mean it’s grueling, back-breaking work.

But ANYTHING worth doing requires time, effort, focus, and dedication. Why should marriage be any different?

So now, let’s review the . . . 

11 Deadly Types of Marital Conflict You Should Avoid

types of marital conflict black and white headshots of a man and woman facing away from one another

1. Electronic Harm

Phubbed. This is a new term that refers to being ignored by a partner in favor of their cell phone.

In a study from Baylor University about mobile device addiction, 308 couples were polled to see how they felt about their partner’s cell phone use.

The results showed that a staggering 46.3% felt they were being “phubbed” by their spouse.

But feeling ignored by a spouse is just the beginning of an electronic marital conflict. Other harmful behavior includes:

  • Sending or requesting sexual pictures without consent
  • Demanding passwords to social media/phone/email accounts
  • Snooping through your online accounts without permission
  • Harassing through text
  • Threatening to use nude photos or other electronic information against you
  • Putting spying/monitoring systems in the house, on the car, or on your online accounts

Not convinced? I’m not suggesting you toss your electronic devices out (after all, you’re reading this on one), but setting limits and boundaries for yourself, spouse and especially kids if you have them is crucial for mental well-being.

Check out exactly How Technology Affects the Brain Negatively (click to read my detailed article) to learn more.

2. Extreme Jealousy

A study by The American Journal of Family Therapy looked at common problems faced by Brazilian couples.

They found that jealousy was one of the biggest causes of marital conflict.

Jealousy doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Healthy jealousy can inspire spouses to be kinder to one another and value what they have in the relationship.

However, severe jealousy can result in physical, sexual, verbal, and electronic abuse that can quickly turn dangerous.

3. The Silent Treatment

Using the silent treatment to get your way is deeply unhealthy behavior that can ruin your marriage because it takes away your ability to talk to your spouse.

Communication is essential for a healthy, happy marriage.

It helps couples resolve problems and get to know one another better. Your spouse should be someone that you trust, rely on, and depend on for anything.

When the option of communication has been removed from your partnership it can cause irreparable damage.

Not sure how to stop yourself or your spouse from giving the silent treatment? Check out one of the most shared Middle Class Dad posts on Pinterest about exactly How the Silent Treatment Hurts Us (click to read my detailed guide), AND how to stop it.

4. The Deadly Impact of Jealousy and Controlling Behavior

Insecurity and jealousy can cause one partner to exhibit controlling behavior that can put their spouse in a dangerous and even deadly position.

Signs of controlling behavior include:

  • Distancing a spouse from their friends or family
  • Controlling a spouse’s cell phone or online accounts
  • Using religion as an excuse to dominate one’s spouse
  • Refusing to listen or communicate
  • Making a spouse feel guilty or overly dependent
  • Unwanted or excessive criticism with the intention of lowering a partner’s confidence

5. Sexually Destructive Behavior

Research from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experienced sexual violence victimization.

They also found that 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime – often by an intimate partner.

Further research by the U.S. Department of Justice reports that 1 in 9 men and 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner violence.

That violence often involves:

  • Sexual misconduct
  • Stalking 
  • PTSD
  • Injury
  • Contraction of a sexually transmitted disease

6. Conflict That Uses the Children

Studies from the National Institutes of Health show that children function better emotionally, physically, and mentally when their parents get along and make their marriage a priority.

With this in mind, another devastating form of marital conflict is those that put children in the middle of adult problems.

Using children as a go-between to talk to a spouse or threatening to take them away can be emotionally scarring for both children and parents.

7. The Terrible Ways Money Can Destroy a Marriage

It isn’t always easy for couples to talk about money.

Staying on budget, overspending, or disagreeing about how to spend and save income are all common issues faced by married couples.

Yet, if couples aren’t careful, poor financial behavior can lead to uncomfortable conflict.

Constantly fighting about finances or purposely withholding money or refusing to provide for the family can lead to emotional, health, and economic problems.

Believe it or not, while everyone knows of marriage counseling, there are also marriage counselors who specialize in finances. Since money fights and money problems are often in the top 3 reasons for divorce, why not take a moment and review all the Benefits of Financial Marriage Counseling (click to read my article).

8. Disturbing Emotional Conflict

Emotional conflict is one of the most common forms of abuse and control in marriage. This deadly behavior includes:

  • Purposely humiliating one another
  • Constant criticism
  • Spiteful or consistent infidelity
  • Name calling or using derogatory terms
  • Isolating a partner
  • Purposely scaring a partner
  • Threatening self-harm to get your way
  • Spreading rumors or lies about your partner

These are all terrible behaviors that can cause emotional distress and ruin lives.

Criticism, defensiveness, and contempt are three of the absolute worst behaviors that a couple can do to one another according to renowned marriage expert Dr. John Gottman.

They also tend to lead to divorce in an overwhelmingly high percentage of the time.

If you are seeing any of what he calls the Four Horsemen (click to read a complete breakdown of the 4) (the silent treatment mentioned above is the 4th), then I highly recommend you take a moment and review one of the most shared Middle Class Dad posts.

That post walks you through all of them including how to fix a marriage that has them.

9. When Addiction is Involved

Alcohol or drug addiction can create extremely dangerous marital conflict that can be deathly.

Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that each year 696,000 college students (aged 18-24) will be assaulted by another student under the influence of alcohol.

I (Jeff) know firsthand what alcoholism can do to a marriage and a family Growing Up with an Alcoholic Father (click to read my story)

In the above-linked post, I walk you through my personal journey of dealing with my step-dad’s alcoholism, how it destroyed his marriage to my mom and how it impacted me and my relationships as an adult.

Obviously, alcohol enjoyed in moderation can be just fine. But if alcohol abuse is showing up in your marriage, I urge you to take action before it’s too late.

10. Physical Abuse

More research from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reveals that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience some form of physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime.

This behavior is never okay.

Further research from the National Institutes of Health also shows us the really deadly impact it can have on marriages.

They note that when domestic violence shows in a marriage or relationship, the risk of homicide goes up by 500% when there is a firearm in the home.

Going back to my (Jeff) comment above about my alcoholic step-father, my Mom did finally leave him, but only after he literally knocked her teeth out.

So if you are seeing ANY signs of physical abuse just know that it’s not your fault and you need to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself (and kids if you have them) safe. If the abuser promises to change, then they can work on that alone while you are safe.

11. Using Sex as a Weapon

Using sex as a weapon can have devastating effects on your marriage.

Physical intimacy between partners has been shown in a study by the National Institutes of Health to lower stress, which can help spouses be more tolerant and loving toward one another.

Further studies by the National Institutes of Health reveal that the oxytocin hormone released during intercourse increases trust, marital satisfaction, and emotional intimacy between partners.

Withholding sex and its wonderful benefits all to get what you want from your partner can create emotional distress that can lead to divorce.

Wondering Can a Marriage Last Without Intimacy (click to read my article which answer that question)? Check out a recent post here on Middle Class Dad to check the odds and see some simple solutions for fixing it.

What are the types of couples?

Different “experts” claim different numbers of the “types of marriages or different types of couples”. So you may or may not recognize all of these types, but the Top 5 Types of Marriages are:

  • Partnerships – Couples who see each other as equals who both work and see their marriage as a business partnership. They balance the needs of the household equally.
  • Independents – Couples who cohabitate but live large portions of their life separately. Conflicts tend to be minimal as they don’t feel the need to agree or compromise.
  • Degree Seekers – Couples who are drawn to one another seeking to learn and grow from one another, but who often are very different from each other.
  • “Traditional” Roles – Traditional marriages typically see the husband as the breadwinner and the wife runs the household and is a stay at home mom.
  • Companionship – Here, both spouses are looking for a life partner and best friend. There is a great deal of affection and time spent together as they take on the world and life’s challenges together.

In truth, you may find that your marriage blends 2 or more of these together, and that’s OK.

There are pros and cons to all 5, so dive in deeper over at Marriage.com to learn more and to identify which type your marriage is.

What is a volatile couple?

A volatile couple is one of the 5 types of couples that Dr. John Gottman identifies in his book, Principia Amoris: The New Science of Love.

His 5 types differ greatly from what we listed above, so they are worth mentioning too: Conflict-Avoiding, Validating, Volatile, Hostile, and Hostile-Detached.

Specifically, volatile couples are extremely emotional.

During an argument, their goal is not necessarily to try and understand the other’s point of view but to persuade them they are wrong.

On the plus side, while they love a good debate, they also love humor and laughing and will include much of that in their communication. While they clearly love to stand their ground and argue a point, they stay away from disrespectful or belittling communication. 

Dr. John Gottman is my (Jeff) favorite marriage expert. He and his wife Julie have done more studies and research over decades than any other marriage researcher. His book Making Marriage Work (click to read my review) may literally have saved my marriage.

So if you’re curious, take a moment and read my review of his book.

How do couples resolve conflict?

This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

So right out of the gate, know your goal shouldn’t be to have a marriage without disagreement. ALL couples fight, argue, and disagree.

Your goal should be to argue with your spouse in such a way as to NOT make each other feel worse about themselves or fearful, or filled with anger, rage, or hate.

Here’s how to handle conflicts in a marriage:

  • Set aside time to talk – put the kids to bed and the phones away and if it’s a serious issue, no alcohol
  • Listen actively and empathetically – Don’t just wait your turn to talk or think about your rebuttal, but really listen to what your spouse is saying and put yourself in their shoes
  • Avoid name-calling, profanity, and accusations – Instead, ask questions and talk about how your spouse’s actions make you feel. Focus on your feelings and not what you think they did wrong
  • Compromise – Understand you may not always come to an agreement. It’s OK to not agree with your spouse on everything. What’s not OK is being so unwilling to bend or see their point of view that you lose sight of the big picture

The art of empathetic listening is HUGELY important for couples, so if your marriage is struggling with communication, I highly recommend you take a moment and review how Empathetic Listening Can Help Your Relationship (click to see my tips).

 

Did we cover all you wanted to know about marital conflict and improving your marriage?

In this post, guest author Rachael Pace walks us through the world of marriage fights, problems and some of the deadliest types of marital conflicts that destroy marriages.

We look at data and statistics that confirm the issues, but more importantly, we answer all the top questions about marriage conflicts AND some solutions you can take to improve your marriage.

If your marriage is struggling to get past the conflicts, then check out this quick video on how to Mend Your Marriage (click to watch on their website) that will help get yours back on track.

What is the biggest struggle in your marriage?

If you like this post, please follow my Save Your Marriage board on Pinterest for more great tips from myself and top marriage experts!



About the author of this post:

types of marital conflict Rachael Pace headshot Middle Class DadRachael Pace is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples.

She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy happy marriages.

Want to write for Middle Class Dad too? Check out everything you need to know on my Guest Blog Page.

types of marital conflict Middle Class Dad bio

If you are dealing with one of the abusive types of marital conflict, don’t keep yourself in harm’s way. You deserve to be with someone who loves and respects you. Seek marital counseling, confide in a trusted friend or family member or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224 to get help.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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