Marital Conflict
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“Marital Conflict,” Counseling Resources (2020).

“Marital Conflict,” Counseling Resources.

Marital Conflict

Successful eternal marriages are built on a foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and adherence to His teachings.

As in any type of relationship, there will be conflicts in marriage. But sometimes couples deal with discord in ways that diminish the strength of their relationship and are damaging to both partners. As a leader, you should support the couple’s own efforts to resolve the conflict rather than trying to resolve it yourself. Encourage accountability and honesty so spouses can receive guidance and discernment from the Holy Ghost.

Seek to Understand

Helping each partner in the marriage feel heard and understood may be just as important as any counsel you can give. As you talk with the spouses, make sure to show love and empathy as the Savior would. Prayerfully consider asking each spouse questions such as the following in a kind and loving manner to help you better observe and understand the situation and discern needs. Be willing to take time to simply listen.

  • What are you going through right now?

  • What are you most concerned about in your marriage?

  • How do you feel about your marriage covenants?

  • How open have you been or are you willing to be in discussing this problem with your spouse?

  • Are you being the type of person and spouse that you want to be?

  • What are you doing to improve your relationship with your Heavenly Father?

  • How might you be contributing to the conflict in your relationship?

  • What gospel principles might provide solutions to the problem?

  • What are you willing to do to help resolve the problem?

  • What do you need to forgive or be forgiven of in your relationship?

  • What sources of support or other resources do you have to help you?

  • What can you do to turn to the Savior Jesus Christ and access the power of His grace?

Help the Individual

As you help the couple, ensure that they understand their responsibility to find solutions to their challenges. Appropriately express your love and concern for the couple as you consider some of the following suggestions.

Emphasize the individual responsibility and accountability each partner has to the marital relationship. Spouses who honestly evaluate their own behavior and promptly take needed steps to repent and improve can experience healing in their marriages.

  • Help each spouse recognize that no one can change someone else, but with faith, effort, and the help of God, each person can undergo his or her own change of heart.

    Encourage each spouse to avoid demanding her or his own way, speaking with moral superiority, or seeking vindication.

    Help each spouse consider what the other may be feeling in the relationship and work on developing empathy. Invite them to discuss their struggles together.

Help the couple consider what they may be holding against the other spouse that needs to be let go.

Ensure that each spouse feels safe enough to discuss the marital conflict openly. Sometimes a spouse may withdraw rather than engage directly because he or she doesn’t feel physically or emotionally safe.

  • Help each spouse understand that she or he can receive inspiration to set clear boundaries in the marital relationship and in the home.

  • Make it clear that each spouse is responsible for only his or her own behavior and that he or she should not endure abusive behavior.

  • If you become aware of any abuse, contact civil authorities. A help line is also available for the bishop. Refer to the Abuse (Help for the Victim) resource and the Abuse (Help for the Offender) resource.

If marriage partners need additional help, encourage them to receive professional help together whenever possible to prevent any misunderstandings between them and to encourage complete honesty.

Support the Couple and Family

Marital conflicts affect all family members. Determine the impact of the conflict on other family members, and address relevant issues resulting from the conflict.

Support healthy patterns of communication (see “Communicating with Love,” Strengthening Marriage: Resource Guide for Couples [2006], 4, 7).

  • Help the couple to recognize and change negative and destructive patterns of communication, such as criticizing or treating each other with contempt.

  • Encourage the spouses to be quick to forgive and seek forgiveness from each other.

  • Help couples use “I” messages rather than “you” messages. For example, “I feel insecure and unloved when I don’t hear back from you” instead of “You don’t love me.” Or “I feel like I’m always falling short of your expectations” instead of “You make me feel like I can’t ever do anything right.”

Counsel husbands and wives to treat each other as equal partners.

  • Encourage the spouses to be honest, open, and respectful of each other.

  • Encourage spouses to share and give access to important and relevant information.

  • Encourage spouses to make decisions unanimously as a couple.

  • Encourage spouses to avoid cultural or historical practices in which one spouse dominates or treats the other in any way as a second-class partner in marriage. These practices are contrary to gospel principles, and spouses should replace them with correct patterns of behavior.

Help the couple assess their patterns of faith, family boundaries, and other practices.

  • Discuss the family’s Church meeting attendance, weekly family home evening, personal and family prayer and scripture study, and family mealtime.

  • Discuss how the spouses’ use of media and electronic devices might be affecting their relationship.

  • Counsel the couple to set boundaries in media, social media, and use of electronic devices. Encourage partners to share passwords, keep social media use transparent, and avoid any secret internet experiences.

  • Encourage each spouse to avoid connecting with others in ways that might betray the sacred trust of his or her partner or have the appearance of impropriety.

If there are children in the family, they may feel stress and anxiety about the parents’ relationship. Help them with the struggles they may be facing.

  • Help the couples to understand the impact that contentious disagreements and conflict have on their children.

  • Encourage the couple to appropriately acknowledge to their children any escalated marital conflict; this will help ensure that their children are not left to deal with the effects of the conflict on their own.

  • Invite spouses to discuss with each of their children individually, in age-appropriate terms, what the couple is doing to address the conflict.

  • If you become aware of child abuse or domestic violence, immediately contact civil authorities. The bishop also has a help line he may call for assistance with these situations.

Invite the couple to identify existing resources that could help them improve their relationship with each other and with their children.

  • Invite the couple to make a list of talents, skills, relationships, resources, family members, and other sources that the couple could draw on to address the marital conflict.

  • Counsel the couple to avoid recruiting resources or people to one side of the conflict or a particular argument.

Use Ward and Stake Resources

After obtaining the couple’s permission to discuss the situation with others, consider asking ward leaders or other trusted people to provide continuing support, guidance, and assistance.

Consider setting up additional classes outside of Church meetings or having a mentor meet individually with the couple by using the Strengthening Marriage and Strengthening the Family courses and course materials.

Under the bishop’s direction, identify a trusted couple who could be this couple’s mentor and their support. Ideally, this couple will have successfully dealt with a similar challenge, but any spiritually mature couple with compassion could provide caring support.

Consider referring the couple to professional help or counseling. Identify local resources that provide services in harmony with gospel principles.

  • Family Services (where available) is able to provide consultation for leaders and offer suggestions about resources in your community.