Common Causes of Marital Conflict and their Resolution

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Although no two situations are alike, there are some common patterns that often result in marital conflict and sometimes in infidelity in a marriage or committed relationship.  Note that they are not mutually exclusive. They are described below. 

  

I. Unacknowledged or Unresolved Anger or Resentment  

Often major life events – such as the birth of a child or children, job or career changes, deaths of relatives, the purchase of a home, or a geographical move triggers the resentment which often is not identified, expressed, or resolved. This can happen in situations such as the following:  

  • With the birth of a child, husbands, not uncommonly, may begin to feel neglected by the wife — who is now a mother (perhaps for the first, second, or third time).
  • One spouse may have a of feeling that she or he is not getting enough attention or love from the other, or a sense that she or he is not a priority in the life of the spouse who may be very focused on career, work, going out with “the boys” or “the girls”, and the like. 
  • It’s also not uncommon for one or both spouses to feel resentful that he or she is not getting his or her sexual needs met for a prolonged period of time. 

Other common roots of “hidden” resentments:   

  • where one spouse is seen as not contributing his share of the domestic duties
  • where one spouse has given up his or her career, or moved  away  from his or her home town or area where family lives, for the benefit of the other’s career
  • where one spouse is seen as being “overly” close to his or her family-of-origin;
  • where one partner is seen as being overly controlling or “in charge” of the home life including of the child-rearing and discipline; and
  • where there are financial stressors and/or where one partner is perceived as being a spend-thrift

   

 II.  The Experience of “Boredom” in the Marriage   

The experience of “Boredom” in a marriage or committed relationship often reflects the lack of an “always-growing” level of emotional intimacy, comfort, a sense of being “known”, of feeling accepted, and of feeling loved in the relationship.  This, in turn, may result from a number of factors including each partner’s self-esteem, the type of relationship each spouses’ parents had and modeled, and one’s ability to feel and express emotional intimacy.  

Other factors that may contribute to a sense of “boredom” are:  

  • The Lack of a “good-enough” emotional relationship. One example of this is that one spouse — often, but not always — the female, may feel lonely and disconnected because her husband can’t or won’t talk about his feelings and she is left feeling alone.  For more on this topic, visit my article on “He Won’t Talk About His Feelings…”. 
  • The Lack of a “good-enough” sexual relationship.
  • An Addiction to Stimulation, where one partner has a history of stimulating, thrill-seeking, high-risk, or addictive/compulsive behaviors. These are often rooted in habitual “self-soothing” behaviors as a child or adolescent.
  • “Sex Addiction” on the part of the unfaithful spouse. Sex Addiction often arises in families in which other family members (parents, grandparents, etc.) were themselves “sex addicts”; where there was a history of infidelities in the family; or where family members were alcoholics, gamblers, food addicts, or suffered from other compulsions, addictions or mental health challenges.

Sex addiction may also stem from a family background where there was physical or emotional abandonment or neglect, or where physical, sexual, or emotional abuse was present.  This often results in a lack of adequate bonding and a profound sense of isolation.  Although the child may not be conscious of it, there may be a core feeling of loneliness for which the addictive behavior is unconsciously created to compensate.  Thus, the addictive or compulsive behaviors become attempts to self-soothe which, over time, become neuronally imprinted in the brain.  For more information on this, go to the “Sexual Addiction” article in this blog.   

III. “The Spark Is Gone” Syndrome  

This may be related to a sense of “boredom”, as noted above, but not necessarily. So many spouses reach a point – after some years — where they feel that the so-called “spark” is gone.  This is based upon the false belief, in my view, that because one’s physical or sexual attraction has lessened, one is no longer “in love” with their partner.  This kind of thinking confuses what a long-term, loving marriage or partnership is all about.  It confuses love, which is a decision and a commitment, with the feeling of physical and sexual attraction and lust, which most frequently diminishes over time for the vast majority of couples and which requires work to keep it fresh and exciting.  Feel free to read “The Spark is Gone” article in this blog for more on this.  Also, see my article here on “How Can I Tell if I’m ‘In Love’?”  

IV. “The “Midlife Crisis”  

This is a phenomenon that’s so common in our culture that it has been given a name.  It is a phase-of-life crisis, based primarily on the fear of growing old or older and of being less attractive.  However, it’s also usually rooted in self-esteem issues from childhood or adolescence.  

So many people are terrified of growing older and of losing their attractiveness, especially to potential mates.  Oftentimes this fear is unconscious but its effects are no less real.  This unconsciously prompts individuals to seek the approval of the opposite sex (for heterosexual couples).  People affected by such fears may “innocently” flirt more, hoping to receive the sexual attention and admiration of others.   

Women with such insecurities may dress more provocatively than usual.  Men may buy and flaunt expensive sports cars, change their dress or hair style to attract attention from younger women, etc.  If these feelings are not made conscious and worked through, the married executive in his or her 40s, 50s, or even 30s may drink excessively on the “business trip” and may find ample opportunities for “cheating” behaviors.  This is more likely to happen where there are unidentified and/or unresolved conflicts (such as are noted above).  

V. A Narcissistic Personality Style     

This refers to a spouse who is so excessively self-involved and ego-centric that he or she doesn’t seem to have any regard or compassion for the needs or desires of others, including those of his or her spouse or partner.  There’s usually a total absence of guilt, remorse, or shame for unfaithful or inappropriate behavior in this type of individual.     

VI. Poor Communication Skills  

I teach “active listening” and good communication skills to couples and provide “homework” for them to hone those skills, holding them accountable, and standing by them as they do the work of learning how to communicate, and even to disagree, in a healthy way.  

  

THE ANTIDOTE:   

For Unresolved Resentments:  The Identification and Communication of Feelings, followed by FORGIVENESS, the Work of both Spouses  

Conflicts in a relationship need first to be identified, or made conscious.  One can’t talk about feelings that one is not aware of having. Only then can they be discussed.  Lastly, for the healing of such conflicts – including infidelity – and for getting the couple back on track, comes the work of forgiveness.   

Forgiveness Following an Infidelity  

Forgiveness is a delicate and critical process following a marital infidelity.  Where there’s been infidelity, an important and seemingly universal factor is whether the “innocent” spouse feels ready to, able to and is willing to trust the unfaithful spouse once again.  The sense of betrayal usually involves both a) the actual infidelity; and b) the deceptions that are part-and-parcel of the unfaithful behaviors.  

The readiness, willingness, and ability of the “innocent spouse” to forgive the unfaithful spouse is often based on a number of factors, in addition to personality type, genetics, the emotional health and stability of such spouse, and the love,  intimacy, and communication skills of the couple. The other factors are:  

  • how long the unfaithful behaviors went on
  • how frequent the sexual liaisons were
  • the number of extramarital partners or instances of infidelity
  • the extensiveness of the “cover-ups” which may encompass years of lies and deception
  • cultural and familial norms about the value (or not) of marital fidelity within each spouse’s family, culture, and upbringing

Other common themes that I see frequently and that are vital for the readiness and willingness of the “innocent” spouse to trust again, to “forgive” and to move forward in the marriage is a heartfelt and genuine experience by he or she that the unfaithful partner:  

  • is genuinely and deeply remorseful
  • has the capacity to, and indeed does really “feel” the pain of the injured spouse
  • understands “why”  he or she was unfaithful, and has worked through, or is in the process of working through, those reasons so that they are not likely to reoccur

It’s also very important that the unfaithful spouse be able to forgive himself or herself, which itself is based upon his or her self-esteem, sense of shame, emotional health, other personality and character traits, the health of the relationship, and many of the other relationship issues, including those noted above.  

Though this may sound surprising, it’s also important that the unfaithful spouse be willing to forgive the “innocent” spouse for what may feel like months or years of what often feels like retribution and punishment by the innocent spouse in the form of pervasive verbal attacks, relentlessly at times rehashing the incidents, emotional withdrawal, and other behaviors resulting from the sense of betrayal, powerlessness, and rage usually following the disclosure of the infidelity.  The work of identifying and communicating genuine feelings, followed by the heartfelt work of forgiveness may, in some cases, be enhanced and facilitated by working with a therapist, a counselor or a relationship coach. 

For problems in a marriage or intimate relationship stemming from an addiction to stimulation, sex addiction, the “spark is gone” syndrome, the “mid-life crisis”, or the narcissistic personality type, it is highly recommended that the couple seek out professional help by a psychotherapist, counselor or relationship coach, depending upon the specifics and degree of the distress, dysfunction, and/or addiction, in order to adequately identify the problem and to set forth a specific plan of action for the psychological, emotional and spiritual healing of the individual(s) affected and the couple.  

About RelationshipsCoach

I'm a Life Coach, and a Relationship and Spiritual Coach. I'm also a Licensed Psychotherapist, Attorney (inactive), Published Writer, Radio Talk Show Expert, Inspirational Speaker and Workshop Presenter. My work is informed and inspired by the spiritual principles of A Course In Miracles, The (not-so) "Secret" Law of Attraction, as well as that of other spiritual paths, together with intuitive wisdom, and psychospiritual insight. I help couples, families, and individuals, utilizing practical, tried-and-true advice and guidance to heal and solve interpersonal challenges and conflicts -- with partners, in families, and in workplace settings. I provide compassionate, results-oriented coaching around issues including marital problems, all aspects of sexuality, parenting, troubled teenagers, infidelity, blended families, dating/seeking ones life partner, challenging in-laws, finances, single-parent issues, mental and emotional challenges, and addictions -- including sexual and pornography addictions. As a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP), I also help individuals discover their "calling" and and help them formulate and implement an effective strategy to attain success on their chosen career path.
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One Response to Common Causes of Marital Conflict and their Resolution

  1. Hi Linda,
    It turns out you DID post your comment direcytly on the blog. I thank you so much for that. (I had thought it was sent to me via my regular email).

    David

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