The conflict couples experience typically has a natural progression. Understanding this progression can help efforts to manage and reduce the conflict.
Ordinarily, conflict begins with an attack on the issue. For example, a wife might say to her husband, "It really bothers me that you leave your dirty socks for me to pick up and deal with." If her husband can respond appropriately to her addressing the issue, the conflict will likely be resolved. If, however, he chooses to ignore her efforts to attack the issue, eventually she will take the next step in the progression.
She will attack the person. She might say something like, "I've asked you several times to clean up your dirty socks and you won't do it. You're such a slob!" She has progressed from attacking the issue to attacking the person. Sometimes this escalation prompts a change for the better. More often, it just creates defensiveness. Over time, repeated, failed attacks on the person prompt the final step in the natural history of conflict.
This is an attack on the relationship. She might say something like, "I've asked you repeatedly to clean up after yourself. But no, you're too lazy. You're just a slob. I can't live like this anymore. This relationship isn't what I signed up for." Once a couple progresses to attacking each other and then the relationship things are headed in a very bad direction.
Anything beyond attacking the issue is destructive and will eventually weaken the relationship bond. Pulling back from attacking the person and the relationship can be an important step in improving a relationship
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.