When Conflict Gets Messy in Marriage

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

We often talk about how fighting a “good fight” can actually bring spouses closer together. A well-managed conflict can shed light on areas of your relationship that need strengthening. It also gives the two of you a chance to solve problems as a team.

But sometimes, conflict gets messy. We might fail to listen to our spouse, say hurtful things, or otherwise escalate a solvable issue. When this happens, you both need to know how to take a step back, then take steps to repair any damage.

Questions to Ask Yourselves When Conflict Escalates

How often are we actually prepared to handle a conflict in our relationships? Most of the time, we’re caught off-guard. If both of you aren’t ready for a conflict, then it’s definitely not going to be a good fight.

When you and your spouse can sense a disagreement, you have the chance to pause and collect yourselves. You can even assess whether you’re both ready to handle the situation right away. Instead of diving right into the conflict, you might actually need to take a break first.

Unfortunately, conflict can escalate before we have a chance to check in with ourselves. The good news is, it’s perfectly fine to pause your fight and return to it when you’re both feeling better. There’s a popular adage that suggests you should never go to sleep angry, but we believe it’s sometimes necessary to step away from a conflict so you can come back fresh. (Here’s how to do that.)

Several factors are almost guaranteed to cause a fight to escalate. Here are some questions you need to ask yourselves if a conflict is getting out of hand:

  • Am I exhausted or stressed? Feeling exhausted, overwrought, stressed, or distressed will make it harder for you to fight well.
  • Am I in a hurry? When you feel as though you don’t have enough time to resolve a conflict, much less think of where to begin, you’re more likely to escalate.
  • Am I feeling physical discomfort right now? If you have pain in your body or need to meet a physical need, like eating or drinking, you’re not ready for a fight.
  • Have I been able to process the situation the way I need to? Not taking the time you need to think about and process the issue puts you both at a disadvantage and raises your risk of a messy conflict.
  • How am I doing emotionally? Have you checked in with your emotional state? Are you in a place that supports problem-solving, or worsens the problem? Feeling irritable, angry, or upset can escalate a fight.

Any one of these factors alone is reason enough to take a time-out. You can come back to the conflict when you’re both ready to handle it in a more productive way.

Messy Conflict Requires Repair

When a fight gets out of hand, it’s bound to do damage beyond the inciting issue. If that happens, you’ll need to work to repair the harm. Think of it as relationship damage control.

It’s best to prevent escalation before it happens. However, we know that’s not always possible. So when you and your spouse sense that a conflict has compounded your problems, it’s important to take a step back and decide how to make things right.

If you said something hurtful to your spouse during your fight, own up to it and apologize. Going forward, take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Take pains to show them that you’re willing to reconcile well so you don’t continue repeating the cycle.

Find Out How You Fight

Wondering what your “fight type” is? Your SYMBIS Assessment results reveal your fight type, which gives each of you insights into how you approach conflict. After you and your spouse take the assessment, your SYMBIS Facilitator can go over the results with both of you.

You can also use our book, Strengthen Your Marriage, alongside your SYMBIS results to dive deeper. Pick up your copy here.

How do you and your spouse de-escalate conflicts? Do you prevent them before they begin? Share your tips with us in the comments.

One Comment

  • Before we got married we made an agreement not not YELL AT EACH OTHER! And we both have found a way to hold to it. It takes prevention and maintenance and making time for up-front communication to keep that rule in place, but we come from houses where yelling happened. We know how that impacted us- and don’t want that generational trauma to get passed down to our kids- enough to work hard to prevent it.

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