Identify how you handle conflict in relationships

Love Intently had the pleasure and excitement of getting to know Brad and Tami Miller from Tandem Marriage.  Brad and Tami, the founders behind Tandem Marriage have been married for 32 years. Below Brad and Tami share some of their knowledge about the different ways couples handle conflict within their relationships. 


We’ve all heard the anecdote that about fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, but have you ever wondered why that is?

Well, renowned relationship psychologist Dr. John Gottman has the answer: it’s because these marriages don’t have enough positive interactions between the two individuals. According to Gottman, the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions (during the conflict) is 5 to 1.

When this doesn’t happen – when a marriage or relationship doesn’t have this ratio – it tends to end poorly. But conflict is not necessarily a bad thing in-and-of-itself, so let’s break down the five types of couples and how they handle conflict.

1. The Avoiders

Conflict avoiders are those people who hate conflict. They typically try to stay away from anything that will trigger an argument or fight. When they do find something that they feel could present as a point of conflict, they tend to ignore it in the hopes that it will resolve itself. Often times, this lack of willingness to engage results in missed opportunities to express their needs (emotional, physical, etc.) to their partner or spouse.

Avoiders are good at defining their personal boundaries and have a good balance of independence and interdependence. This is not to say that they don’t interact with each other at all, but they do have a well-defined sense of self and are confident in it. When avoiders do connect with each other, it is through shared areas of interdependence.

2. The Volatile

Volatile couples engage in conflict with great passion. They argue their point-of-view with gusto and vigor. Their arguments are also characterized by lots of emotion, some positive, some negative. In this respect, volatile couples are the exact opposite of conflict-avoiding couples. However, the outcome of these discussions is a positive one: there is shared laughter, humor, good spirits, and the makeup process is usually as emotional and lively as the argument was.

Volatile couples usually have enormous overlap in the areas where they are dependent on the partner or spouse. Additionally, they express significant amounts of negative emotion, like anger and insecurity, but never any contempt. Honesty and connection are always of importance when these couples communicate with each other.

3. The Validators

Validators are somewhere in the middle ground between the avoiders and the volatile. They are only mildly expressive during a conflict, but such conflict is characterized by both solid argument and empathy. Validators are very aware of the partner’s point-of-view and feelings and strive to find common ground. There is a certain ease and calm to validator couples. Although the occasional conflict will turn passionate, at a certain point both parties come to an agreement.

4. The Hostile

Hostile couples are in an interesting spot. They are like validators, meaning a validator was participating in the relationship (usually, the husband/male, Gottman found), but the similarities end there. When hostile couples engage in conflict, the arguments are marked with a large amount of defensiveness on both sides, and very little empathy or understanding. The Four Horsemen of Conflict were all present in these couples (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling). While hostile couples may not have their relationship end in a break-up or their marriage in a divorce, there is still a general unhappiness to the whole affair.

5. The Hostile-Detached

The fifth type of couple is the Hostile-Detached. If you think of this type of couple as a tense sniper battle, where each is waiting for the perfect opportunity to take a shot at the other, then you’ve got it. As with the Hostile couple, the husband/male partner is usually a validator, but in contrast to the hostile, where the wife/female partner is an avoider, the woman is volatile in the hostile-detached couple.

What does this result in? Well, we know that validators like to argue, but at some point, they wish to compromise and withdraw from the conflict. However, the volatile partner won't let that happen and continues to pursue the validator and try to draw them back into conflict, perpetuating the standoff. These are the marriages that usually end in divorce.


At the end of the day, what is the key to resolving conflict in a healthy manner? Well, let’s start off by saying that none of these five couples is necessarily “wrong,” although the latter two have been found to be less than ideal. There are two important things that jump out when trying to make a relationship work:

1. Avoid the Four Horsemen

2. Know how you handle with conflict and how your partner handles it

The Four Horsemen of Conflict can be huge killers to healthy conflict, so they should be avoided. Stray away from “Yes, but…” statements and move more toward “Yes, and…” statements. The first conveys to your significant other that even though you heard their arguments, you have chosen to ignore them, while the second says shows that you’ve both heard and accepted their arguments as valid and are trying to build toward a point of compromise. Avoid any stonewalling; making the argument go on longer than is needed will only make you both more frustrated.

How do you handle conflict? Are you an avoider, or are you more volatile? At the same time, know how your significant other handles conflict. If you’re a Volatile and they are an avoider, knowing that you can’t go at them full-force, and learning to soften up a little will make conflict and the relationship as a whole, more enjoyable for the both of you.

For more tips on how to avoid criticism and make your relationship a better place for the both of you, check out this article that we wrote in the past.


Tandem Marriage is a marriage community and website that offers loads of free marriage help from us and insight from our TM community as well. We love to share insights from our years of marriage as well as the hundreds and hundreds of couples we have had the privilege of helping over the years. 





Mallory Lehenbauer1 Comment