Divorce-Proof Your Fighting Style

Conflict in a marriage is inevitable; divorce is preventable. Why do some couples manage to fight and stay married (or even grow stronger as a result of the clash), while other marriages end? Strong couples recognize there are 5 major traps that marital fights can fall into, and they know how to sidestep those land mines.


Trap 1: Judgement

You know how in new relationships, everything is cute? Everything little quirk can be brushed aside and forgiven? At some point, that benefit of the doubt ends, and judgement can creep in. “Why did he DO that stupid thing?!?!” “Doesn’t she KNOW that I hate it when…”


This first trap is easy to avoid – all it requires is giving your partner the same benefit of the doubt that you would want. There’s a type of bias called “fundamental attribution error,” where we perceive that others’ actions are because of some personality trait or fault in themselves, but our own actions are situational and reasonable. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt all the time – for a strong marriage, it helps to do the same for your partner.


Trap 2: Antagonism

If you fall into the Judgement Trap for too long, you may find yourself smack dab in Trap 2: Antagonism. In this trap, you and your partner have been in conflict for so long that they start to feel like your enemy. Everything they do feels set up to annoy or hurt you.


To avoid this trap, take a hard look at your fighting style. Are you fighting to win? If so, turning your partner into the enemy is bound to happen. Healthy conflict occurs when both parties recognize they have the same goal (which you DO! A happy, healthy, working relationship!), but they just don’t always agree on how to get there. Block a significant amount of time with your partner to get on the same page about your end goals, and keep conversations productive by focusing on the HOW of “how are we going to achieve what we BOTH agree that we want to achieve?”


Trap 3: Depersonalization

If you’ve been in antagonistic conflict for too long, depersonalization is bound to occur. Depersonalization is actually a critical requirement for war – soldiers are trained to depersonalize the enemy in order to kill them. Conflict research suggests that the same depersonalization happens in interpersonal conflict, and when it occurs it takes antagonism up a notch further.


If you and your partner have depersonalized one another, it will be tough to climb out of this trap without professional help. This is an ideal time to seek out a therapist who can help you see your partner as a feeling, thinking human again, and can serve as almost a translator, helping each side understand the other.


Trap 4: Contempt

Some studies show that marriages truly go off the rails when the partners reach contempt for one another. Others suggest contempt is a key indicator of divorce. Contempt can often be a power play – an outward display of disgust.


As with depersonalization, contempt likely requires a professional’s unbiased help, because the ugly behaviors that can go along with contempt usually have broken the trust between partners. Without that trust repaired, and in the absence of empathy, it will be hard for a couple to go back to a place of security and love.


Trap 5: Apathy

If you’ve lived in contempt long enough, you might grow numb. That’s when you risk reaching the final trap – apathy.


Once apathy occurs, and you no longer feel ANY emotional connection to your partner, even a negative one, it can be hard to salvage a happy marriage. If your marriage does end in this phase, critically examine how you ignored the first 4 traps and ended up all the way in apathy before taking action. It can often take years to reach apathy, with several red flags along the way, so apathy can (and should) be avoided.



Don’t let your normal marital conflicts escalate and fester. To avoid divorce, pay attention to these traps and get to work as soon as you see the red flags start to wave.