You fought for your marriage, but there was something that just couldn’t be reconciled. Conflicts seemed to go nowhere, and while one of you withdrew or shut down, the other seemed to cling harder.
The constant push and pull probably felt exhausting, and while divorce is painful, there may be a sense of relief from the constant, insurmountable tension.
Unmasking what’s really behind a conflict
If you’ve just ended a high-conflict marriage, the root of your troubles may have been less about the actual sources of conflict that led to irreconcilable differences, and more about your individual approach to conflict. The way you process a disagreement or conduct a fight often holds more weight than what you’re actually fighting about.
Relationship guru John Gottman describes five distinctive conflict styles which, based on Gottman’s own research, help divorce in couples. They range from healthy to hostile, and include:
1. Validating – empathy runs high in this ideal conflict style. A paired couple with matching validation styles tends to balance neutrality with healthy forms of expression. Sometimes, competitiveness enters into a disagreement, but usually, they find ways to compromise and return to calm quickly.
2. Conflict avoidant – couples who are lucky enough to share this style find happiness in their own individuality. While there is space for disagreement, conflict is generally minimized by a focus on commonalities and a lack of need or desire to duke it out over differences of opinion. These couples tend to be highly independent and maintain a healthy sense of separateness and strong personal boundaries. Their marriage is usually very happy.
3. Volatile – couples who share this style have highly emotional, high energy conflicts that are more of a debate than an argument in the healthiest iterations. They enjoy the process of debating, but hold no contempt for one another, as both parties often find enjoyment in mutually robust expression.
4. Hostile – this conflict match often finds couples with a validator and an avoider present. In many cases, there is underlying resentment or contempt that creates arguments full of criticism and absolute statements (i.e., “you always” or “you never”). This style pairing tends to lack constructive conflict where an understanding of one another’s point of view is reached.
5. Hostile-Detached – unfortunately, this conflict style is the greatest predictor of divorce. It typically involves a volatile partner paired with an avoider or a validator, creating explosive scenarios where the volatile partner won’t back down, and the other shuts down in an episode where trust and emotional bonding are absent. Conflict doesn’t get resolved because of the standoff this style generates.
Now that your marriage is over, you may still have children to co-parent, which creates a critical need for understanding what’s really behind your mutual turmoil. Once you’ve identified your own style of conflict, you can begin to work on being mindful of your reactions to your ex-partner and facilitate a healthier way of disagreeing with them if you’ll still need to make decisions together.