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  • Writer's picturePaige Wilcken

How to Handle Marital Conflict and Stress

Marriage can be difficult at times. After all, it is a continual learning process when melding your life together with someone else.

Stress and conflict are natural parts of interacting with others. In fact, it is inevitable and even okay to have times where you and your spouse are in conflict with each other. The thing that matters is that you are both willing to face difficulties together and will work with each other to come to a consensus.

But how do I manage conflict with my spouse?

One of the first things you need to understand is that when conflict arises there are four tendencies that we often turn to when talking to our spouses. These are called the four horsemen by Dr. John Gottman.

The Four Horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Criticism is when you verbally attack the person's traits. Contempt involves thinking you are better than the other by attacking the others' sense of self. Defensiveness is an attempt to fight off any attacks thrown your way by victimizing yourself. Stonewalling is practically withdrawing from the conversation completely in an attempt to avoid any further conflict.

These four tendencies are not good signs and if they continue in your marriage they can cause lasting damage. However, there is good news. There are specific ways to counteract these tendencies that come up.

The first is to use statements that start with "I" and express your need. This type of gentle beginning in your sentences can help your spouse be more receptive to your words when you two are in conflict with each other.

The second way to counteract the Four Horsemen is to think of your spouse's positive attributes and be grateful for their kind actions. This allows your mindset to shift so that you do not end up thinking you are better than your spouse.

The third tip is to not shy away from taking responsibility for your actions. Your partner obviously has their own perspective on the matter so be sure to apologize when you are in the wrong.

The fourth thing to remember is that it is okay to take a mutual break to reset your mind by doing something calming or distracting for a little while. This helps to regulate your emotions and get you in the right mindset to visit the conflict once more.

When we do our best to combat the Four Horsemen that may creep into our marital relationship, we are doing our best in creating a fulfilling and lasting marriage.

How do I manage marital stress?

One of the main tendencies in marriage is to take out our stress or anger on the person nearest to us, our spouse. The following are some tips to prevent this tendency:

  • Take time each day to relax when needed

  • Take time to talk with your spouse if something is bothering them, don't guess what is wrong

  • Learn how you and your partner respond to stress and anticipate it when it happens

  • Don't take your partner's anger personally

  • Be sure to tell your spouse what your needs are

  • Be forgiving toward yourself and your partner

  • Spend regular time together as a couple

Some other ways you can minimize stress include talking openly about finances, balancing responsibilities, having personal time, and letting go of any grudges.

Many times struggles in marriage come up because we do not know how to navigate those new experiences. I hope that this guide helps those going through conflict or stressful times to know how to better handle those types of situations.

Marriage is hard but can be fun and fulfilling when both sides put effort into caring for themselves and the relationship.


5 ways to reduce stress in your marriage. Sherman Counseling. (2018).

Lisitsa, E. (2013). The four horsemen: The antidotes. The Gottman Institute.

Marital stress. (n.d.).

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