The Four Stages of Conflict

By September 7, 2017 May 7th, 2019 No Comments

The first time that trouble popped up in your marriage, you were confident that it was nothing that the two of you couldn’t work through together. But now you’re not so sure.

Home has become a battlefield, littered with booby-traps that neither one of you seem to be able (or willing) to defuse.

You take the long way home these days, you already know what waits for you behind the front door. It’s a scene that plays on repeat:

The distance. The quiet rooms. The tension, you make no sudden moves. The arguments that twist and turn. The anger in their eyes, a slow burn. The silence on the other end of the phone. In your own home, you always feel so alone. The pain inside is coiled like a snake ready to strike.

You’ve lost count of the times you’ve asked yourself, “How in the world did we come to this? What in the world is happening to us?”

The hurt in your heart digs deeper as the distance grows further and divorce looms larger, you’ve started calling lawyers.


If this is a scenario that seems all too familiar, then you’re also familiar with the frustrating feeling of being stuck in an endless loop and going nowhere fast. That is very much what is happening and why you haven’t been able to make progress- how can you move your marriage forward when you’re running in circles?

Essentially: the two of you have become stuck in a cycle of painful feelings and coping mechanisms that feed off of each other.

It’s a simple concept that assigns a loose description to the tumultuous atmosphere that has permeated your marriage. But it doesn’t stop there.

You now have a way to see and describe the problem, which is helpful, but having a mental picture isn’t the same as understanding the sum of all its parts.


1. Conflict with your spouse stirs up emotional pain.

Think about the emotions that surface in response to conflict with your spouse. You’ll find that the same emotions surface each time. For example, you might feel unaccepted, abandoned and defective. Those emotions differ from feelings of being disrespected, invalidated, and controlled. The differences are nuanced but critical in understanding the destructive dynamic between you both.

2. You blame each other for your own pain.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, especially in marriage. These clashes usually prompt us to say and do regretful things towards each other. When those hurtful things are said and done by your spouse, you certainly don’t feel secure and loved in that moment. Your line of thinking tells you that someone who truly loved and cared about you wouldn’t intentionally cause you such pain, right?

Are you sure *they* caused the pain you feel?

Most of your feelings and ways of coping were formed well before your marriage.

Time to take a look at the skeletons in your closet.

Rooted somewhere in your past are incidents that have caused certain emotions to become strongly associated with a loss of security and love. And because they are unresolved, the pain of memory is incredibly sharp.

Pain is something that we are hardwired to avoid, so how does one protect themselves against something like a intangible memory? This takes us to the next stage.

3. You’ve developed a coping mechanism to help protect yourself from the painful emotions caused by unresolved trauma.

When you feel attacked, what’s your first instinct? To defend yourself.

When those painful emotions from your past are triggered by the conflict you have with your spouse, you subconscious rushes to deploy a defense to help you cope with the sudden perceived loss of love and security.

4. The way you cope with painful unresolved emotions are also what cause even MORE problems.

You might feel compelled to lash out with harsh words in order to push your spouse away and prevent further pain. You might shut down and withdraw in order to guard yourself from them, and you think that perhaps the hurt they experience from being shut out will teach them to avoid conflict with you altogether. Both of these ways of coping are destructive to a marriage and to yourself.

This final stage serves as fuel to the fire and the cycle starts over yet again.


To be aware is to be empowered. Being able to assign a description to what is happening is a giant step in the right direction. But descriptions and information aren’t what save a fractured marriage. So now what?

The Hideaway Experience is a program designed around helping married couples resolve their painful pasts and reconnect with each other, effectively breaking free of the same cycle that you’re trapped in. The program is headed by a team of licensed psychologists who integrate evidence-based methods with Biblical teachings to provide an experience that not only heals a marriage but transforms it.

With three locations in Texas, Georgia and California, The Hideaway Experience has helped save upwards of 2,000 marriages that hail from 48 states and 2 countries. We’re ready and willing to help you experience the marriage that you always dreamed of having.