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How Your Conflict Style Can Affect Your Divorce

D'Angelo & Grabow, LLP May 20, 2020

Communication is one of the most important elements in any relationship. When it breaks down, often so does the relationship itself, in part because conflict resolution becomes more difficult.

A major cause of many divorces is a couple’s inability to effectively communicate with each other. Some people simply have incompatible styles of communication and conflict resolution, while others simply lack the desire or will to learn a healthier style of communication and problem-solving.

If frequent conflict was part of the equation during your marriage, there is no reason it has to continue throughout your divorce. In fact, discovering and practicing better communication skills can help your divorce sail along much smoother—and quicker—than if you’re constantly bickering and fighting.

An important first step is to identify your conflict style.

Research Shows how You Fight Matters

According to psychologist and researcher Dr. John Gottman, whose work has helped couples understand and navigate conflicts for decades, individuals tend to fall into one or more of several distinctive styles of conflict. Dr. Gottman explains that the wrong pairing can be root cause of deeper, more irreconcilable issues in a relationship, and urges couples to pinpoint their own conflict style.

Knowing your conflict style could help reduce or avoid stress and tension in your relationship. However, even if the marriage ultimately breaks down, knowing your conflict style may allow you to better negotiate and reach a resolution, especially in cases involving children or significant assets.

Gottman defines five primary types of couples, based on how they manage conflict individually and as a team:

  1. Conflict avoiders

  2. Volatile couples

  3. Validating couples

  4. Hostile couples

  5. Hostile-detached couples

The first three types of couples tend to manage conflict and communication in mostly healthy ways, even when there is a high level of conflict present. The latter two, however, lack a basic foundation of trust which can create a higher level of discord during a fight or disagreement.

If you and your spouse are willing to determine what style of conflict you most identify with you can set boundaries, create mindful methods of conflict resolution, and introduce a higher level of amicability into an otherwise tense situation. As difficult as this might sound, if successful you may find the effort results in less stress and a more positive outcome for both of you.