Marriage basics: How to resolve your relationship conflicts

The top five sources of conflict in relationships? Sex, money, children, in-laws and household chores.

Love is easy. Living together isn’t. Most of us aren’t very good at handling conflict. We resort to fight, flight or avoidance.

Look around you. Our political parties are incapable of resolving their differences. Neighboring countries in the Middle East can’t even sit down together and discuss their troubles. Our relationships are no exception. Like being stuck in a gridlock traffic jam on I-5, our marital engine comes to a grinding halt when we disagree.

What are the common sources of conflict in relationships? The big five, in no particular order, are sex, money, children, in-laws and household chores.

Bob wants to spend money on a new boat. His wife wants to buy a new stove.

Mary is a saver. Bill is a spender.

Joe wants his kids to go to religious school. Sarah doesn’t.

Tom is strict with the kids. Hannah is lax.

Dianna likes to make love way more frequently than her husband.

Joe likes to have everything in its place. Sarah couldn’t care less.

This list is endless. Sometimes lucky couples may just have one big area of conflict. Less fortunate spouses can have several topics of divergence. My wife and I get along famously, except we had huge differences about many areas of parenting. It took years for us to sort them out — and by then the kids had left home!

It seems that opposites attract. And then they spend the next 20 years trying to get their spouse to be just like them. Our differences are the soil in which conflict grows.

Here are some ways of addressing differences:

Take them head on. I know it’s tempting to avoid conflict, sweep differences under the rug or walk around them. But they’re not going to go away. These differences of everyday life will be like a thorn in your side that keeps causing pain. Make the decision to address them, even if you feel hopeless that you can resolve them.

Don’t discuss these issues when you are angry. The worst time to discuss a complex issue is when you’re mad. Most likely you will say something that will escalate the discussion into a shouting match. It is impossible to resolve these concerns when you are angry. Agree upon a time to discuss a conflict when you are both likely not to be hungry or tired.

Send each other written proposals for change. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about emotional issues face to face. Each person is liable to react to the other person, rather than to respond to their ideas. Write up a proposal, send it by email and ask for a response by email. Send messages back and forth until you are ready to sit down and talk.

Don’t use text messages to resolve big concerns. Fifty characters are not enough communication to solve challenging problems but can be enough fuel to ignite a fire! Save texting for unimportant brief communiques.

Don’t give up. The secret sauce in labor negotiations is simple. Don’t stop talking until you make a deal. In my experience, couples give up trying to solve difficult problems way to soon.

Give a little, get a little. I know this is hard. I am pretty stubborn myself and usually think I’m right. Take a deep breathe, swallow your pride and compromise. If each person moves in baby steps toward the other person, you will find yourself closer to each other than when you started.

Think before you speak. Words are very powerful. Once you say something, you can’t take it back. You can apologize for saying it, but it is not like an email you can recall.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at

Talk to us

More in Life

Shawn McQuiller of Kool & The Gang performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Kool & The Gang and Average White Band are coming soon to a casino near you. Queensryche also is due in Arlington.

Preston Brust, left, and Chris Lucas of LOCASH perform during CMA Fest 2022 on Thursday, June 8, 2022, at the Chevy Riverfront Stage in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

The country music duo Locash drops by the Angel of the Winds Casino on Saturday. And there’s the Summer Meltdown festival at its new home near Snohomish all weekend.

‘Poco Orange’ Red Hot Poker. (Terra Nova Nurseries)
Warmer weather means brighter, hotter colors in the garden

Here are seven plants that will bring a blazing pop of color to your outdoor spaces.

An easy one-mile loop near the visitor center at Seaquest State Park explores the edge of Silver Lake.
(Scott Hewitt/The Columbian)
Discover seven hidden gems not far from the super slab

Weekend trips: Next time you’re making the I-5 slog toward Oregon, check out some of these parks and preserves just off the freeway corridor.

Caption: Now’s a great time to stock up on free Covid tests available to Washington State residents at:
COVID-19’s behind her except for a nagging cough

But things might have been much different — in a bad way — without testing and vaccines.

The blended-families challenge requires patience, maturity

Don’t expect miracles — it can be rough going for some time. Get professional help if you need it.

Her Turo rental was repossessed with valuable items inside

When Michelle Marshall’s Turo rental gets repossessed, the car-sharing company offers her a partial refund. But what about her son’s expensive epilepsy medication? Is Turo responsible for that?

Lee Oskar and his dog Tex inside his art studio in his home on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Harmonica whiz Lee Oskar is also a pro with a paintbrush

Oskar’s music and art studios are in his Everett home. The former member of the 1970s band War is now 74, and still rocks “Low Rider.”

The 2022 WM Recycle Corps interns are part of WM’s recycling education and outreach team.
WM Recycle Corps interns return after two-year COVID slowdown

The collegiate interns are back in the community to help improve recycling habits and reduce waste.

Caption: At Flight Room in Lynnwood, aerial fitness poses like “vampire” use every muscle in your body.
Fitness takes flight at new aerial studio in Lynnwood

Jennifer Bardsley finds benefits and “silk kisses” from doing aerial yoga at Lynnwood studio.

Photo Caption: This carved shelf brought $2,500 at New Haven Auctions. Decorations and symbols associated with the Odd Fellows add to its appeal.
Odd Fellows iconography adds to this carved shelf’s value

Fun fact: The Odd Fellows is believed to have originated in medieval trade guilds, with “odd fellow” meaning someone who did odd jobs for a living.

The Limelight Prime Panicle Hydrangea. (Proven Winners)
3 new “pee gee” hydrangeas for gardeners to salivate over

These new shrubs boast better flower color and, in some cases, more compact forms that fit better in smaller gardens.