How to Handle Conflict With Your Spouse


One of my editors asked me to write an article about handling the conflict that naturally arises during a marriage.  Arguments happen – that doesn’t mean that a relationship isn’t working.  In fact, learning to work through conflict with your spouse actually helps you learn to cope with frustration and disappointment in other areas of your life.  So that silly argument about the dishes that never get done the other day?  That can actually help you out.  Go ahead, air your dirty laundry when you need to – it’s for the greater good.

The problem with conflict, however, is dealing with it when one or both partners rely on maladaptive coping strategies.  There are right and wrong ways to handle a conflict, and if you haven’t practiced adaptive coping strategies, chances are you will get stuck in a negative loop that leads to increased anger and resentment.  That’s not good for a marriage (or a friendship or a sibling relationship…)

While my editor asked me to write about couples, I do believe that most of the information applies to any number of relationships – friends, siblings, parents, relatives…we all have ups and downs along the way.  How we choose to handle those obstacles, however, can make or break a relationship.

When people end up in my office to work through conflict and frustration, I always ask them two questions:  What is your role in the conflict and what are your go-to coping styles?  The truth is that even if something is 99% the fault of the other person, there’s still that 1% waiting to be claimed.  You can’t change other people, but you can grab your 1% and find healthy alternatives.

Adults tend to establish patterns when it comes to relating to others.  Even if a go-t0 strategy isn’t working, they might continue to use it because it’s become second nature.  It’s important to take the time to evaluate your communication style and coping strategies and find ways to make improvements.  No one is perfect, after all.

There are a few red zones to look for when it comes to maladaptive coping strategies.

  • Do you rely on the silent treatment when angry?
  • Do you look for areas of weakness to bring the other person down?
  • Do you play the blame game?
  • Do you involve third parties to find support?

If any of these sound familiar, please head over to SafeBee and check out 4 Ways to Argue More Fairly.  The article includes reasons behind the maladaptive strategies and tips for breaking negative patterns of communication.

Communication is essential to a healthy relationship.  You might not be able to changes others, but you can always make changes that benefit the relationships that mean the most to you.  Enjoy!

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)