The Seeds of Marital Conflict

Her Version:

“They married and lived happily ever after.” Though no modern woman would ever admit to believing in such a fairy tale ending, conflicts often originate and are perpetuated because she believes the relationship “is not romantic enough” or “not the way it used to be.”

Women are often the first ones to express disenchantment with the relationship. She may feel taken for granted, feel that he’s become emotionally distant or feel that their communication leaves much to be desired. Some days, she finds fault with everything he does. Other days, she wonders if she’s the one at fault. Maybe she’s being too critical. Maybe she’s asking for too much. Maybe if she didn't confront him, he wouldn't be so defensive. Perhaps she should offer gentle hints, not harsh hounding. Talk to him lovingly, not critically. Maybe then, he’d get the message. And she’d stop feeling so lonely, so angry.

She dislikes feeling like a nag, constantly reminding him to take care of things. She hates feeling like a plaintiff, accusing him of drinking too much. She abhors feeling like his mother, scolding him for forgetting to do what he said he’d do. But most of all, she detests feeling like a madwoman, yelling, crying, and feeling totally out of control.

Yet, she doesn’t know what else to do. She's tried everything.

His Version:

“What do women want?” pondered Freud more than 100 years ago. Men are still asking themselves the same question. Why does she get so distraught about little things? Why is she always complaining about something I didn’t do? Why does she worry so much? Why do things have to be done the way she wants them done? Why is she still upset about stuff that’s ancient history? Don’t her resentments come with an expiration date?

A man’s initial reaction to his wife’s complaints is generally to defend himself. He either denies what she accuses him of, admits to a lesser offense (I only had one drink) or provides a reasonable explanation (Sure, I’d like to spend more time together; it’s just that I have so much stuff to do.”) He works hard to keep his emotions under control. If countering her critique rationally doesn’t work, he distracts himself with TV, sports, work, his computer, or sleep. His goal: to survive without making thing worse. He knows that if he were to lose control, it would be a no-win situation. Better to strive to be strong, steadfast and ride out the storm.

Oh, if only this approach worked. Much to his dismay, she interprets his rationality and distractions as evidence that he just doesn’t 'get it'. She feels she just can’t get through to him no matter how hard she tries. He feels she just doesn’t stop accusing him of something that he’s done wrong.

What’s a couple to do when their dance is out of sync? Read on for creative ways to get out of the morass.

Resolving the Conflict

When a couple’s dance is out of sync, just repeating what you’ve said before and doing what you’ve done before is not helpful. But, if you don’t know any better, you can’t do any better. So, let’s see if we can make some changes right now.

Adopt a new attitude.
When your spouse pushes your button, your instinct is to defend yourself, counter-attack or shut down. And exactly where has that gotten you? So, let’s try something new, shall we. Slow down, take a deep breath and see if you can espouse a spirit of:
•Inquiry: Ask questions and listen to the answers as your partner explains why she feels the way she does or why he acts the way he does. Be open to learning something new, not only about your spouse but also about yourself.
•Tolerance: Cast aside your righteous indignation. Forego your certainty that your way is the only right way. Agree to disagree, even when you know your way is better.
•Moderation: Your spouse did something that rubs you the wrong way. Do you get annoyed, angry or do you fly into a rage? Make it your goal to reduce the intensity and volume of your response.

Avoid cross-complaining.

When your spouse brings a grievance to the table, do not bring up your own complaint at that time. If you do, it will feel unfair to your spouse and get you nowhere. So, address your spouse’s complaint first. Once you reach closure on that, then you can grumble about whatever’s bothering you. Or, perhaps, by that time, you will not even feel the need to do so.

Appreciate Gender Differences.

It’s not just men and women’s bodies that are different; it’s also our brains. If you’re telling a story and he’s impatient because he doesn’t want to hear all the details, know that your husband is not a swine; it’s just a guy thing. And guys, if your wife wants to tell you every detail of the story and expects you to show interest in it, it’s not because she’s a control freak, it’s just a woman thing.

Be Generous in Your Interpretation of Your Spouse’s Behavior. Yup, he leaves his socks on the floor, doesn’t put the towel back on the rack and leaves the toilet seat up. Is this because he wants you to be his maid? Or doesn’t give a damn about you? Maybe, but it’s much more likely that he’s simply careless, tired or sloppy. If he lived alone, he’d do the same thing. Doesn’t that prove he’s not doing it to you? Putting the worst possible interpretation on your spouse’s behavior increases your distress and resolves nothing.
It’s natural for couples in conflict to focus on how to get their spouse to change. Rarely is this approach helpful - unless the spouse also wants to change. Far better for both of you to reflect on the following questions:
•What is this conflict really about? (it could be nothing more than a power play; whose way is right!)
•How can I change my behavior or attitude?
•How can we foster a better understanding of our differences?
•How can we do nice things for each other, despite the tension in our relationship?
•How can we work together to become more accepting of our differences?
•How can we work together to resolve our conflicts?

If after reading this column, you still feel as stuck as ever, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If you wish to stay married, it may be the best investment you’ll ever make.

Copyright 2011

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Sapadin is a clinical psychologist, author, columnist, educator and motivational speaker. She is known for her sharp insights and exceptionsal ability to provide timely, yet timeless advice.

Her specialties are how to master debilitating fear, anxiety, procrastination and other self-defeating patterns of behavior in order to build self-confidence, enrich relationships, enhance communication and get along with difficult people.


Now I Get It! Totally Sensational Advice for Living and Loving (Outskirts Press, 2007) To be published in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia

Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get On With Your Life (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). (Also published in Korean and French)

Beat Procrastination and Make the Grade: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How STUDENTS can Overcome Them (Penguin, 1999).

It's About Time! The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them (Penguin, 1996). Also published in Japanese by Nihon Eizo Press.

Person to Person weekly column, published by Richner Communications.


TV and Radio media: Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox Morning News, National Public Radio (Celeste Quinn Show, Derek McGinty Show, All Things Considered), The God Squad, Canadian Broadcasting Company, the Voice of America, Good Day New York. Full media resume on request.

Print media; The New York Times, USA Today, Newsday, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Men's Health, Self, Ladies Home Journal, Prevention, First, Fitness, Bottom Line, Moxie, Redbook, Sesame Street, Lifetime, Associated Press,, Full media resume on request.

The American Psychological Association, Smithsonian Associates, 92nd St. Y, Herman Miller, Inc., Coopers & Lybrand, Hofstra University.