How Couples Therapy Helps You Navigate Marital Conflict

But first, a side note

Hi, this is Jessica! I’ve invited my local colleague Connor Moss to write a bit about how he helps couples deal with the conflicts that come up in their relationships. Couples therapy is a great service that I don’t offer, so I want to make sure you have an excellent local resource to get couples therapy with a skilled therapist when you need relationship help.

Couples therapy helps communication and conflict

Marriage is a wonderful part of life for most people. What we don’t often hear about in the media or on Facebook feeds is how common marital conflict is. Many people experience conflict in their marriages or long term relationships that sometimes doesn’t show up until years or even decades into a relationship. When you are in a relationship with someone for a long time, you and your partner will inevitably change and grow, and your relationship will have to change and grow with you.

For your relationship to continue to stay healthy into the years, many people find they must learn to adapt and learn new skills in order to navigate conflict that might emerge in your relationship. Couples therapy can help you and your partner come to terms with the conflict in your marriage and find new ways to communicate with each other and navigate conflict in new ways.

Conflict is healthy and normal

Many of my clients believe that conflict in their marriage means that something is wrong with their relationship and they start to question the future of their relationship. While sometimes a breakup or divorce is the only path forward for your marriage, most marital conflict can be worked through even if it feels really intense at the moment. Conflict in long term relationships and marriage is very common and it is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is unhealthy or is doomed to fail.

John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

According to John Gottman, a preeminent couples therapist and psychotherapist, there are four signs that a relationship is doomed, which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Gottman dubbed these four signs the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to represent how deadly to a relationship these forces can be. According to Gottman, these four factors, if left unaddressed, are likely to spell the end of a marriage or relationship. You might notice that conflict itself is not one of these four factors according to Gottman! This means that healthy conflict or arguments in a relationship do not need to mean that your relationship is doomed, and most people find that with the help of couples therapy they can navigate conflict in new ways. If you can engage in conflict without devolving into criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling, then you have a much better chance of withstanding conflict in your marriage.

Accept that conflict will happen, and find new ways to communicate through it

Conflict is a part of every relationship, no matter how healthy it is. Once the honeymoon period is over, every relationship goes through a growth period where difficult triggers around attachment, conflict, and communication are common. Close relationships often can bring up the most vulnerable and tender parts of ourselves and can be very painful to navigate. In the best form, long term relationships and marriages are a chance to engage in a relationship in a healthy way and learn from the conflict that emerges with your partner. Over a long enough time period, any relationship will face conflict, and with the proper support most conflict in relationships can be overcome or navigated through. 

How couples therapy helps you navigate conflict

In couples therapy, you and your partner get the opportunity to focus on your marriage or relationship with your partner once a week. This focus and time set aside specifically to work on your relationship can do wonders in and of itself. In addition, a good couples therapist will help you navigate the conflict in your relationship in a way where you both feel safe to share your side of the story. Once your stories are heard you will learn new communication tools such as Nonviolent communication, and understand how your attachment style might be affecting the conflict that you get stuck in.

The hallmarks of a healthy marriage

In a healthy relationship, conflict will still occur from time to time, but you and your partner will have the tools and understanding to navigate that conflict without falling into the pitfalls of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Once you feel you and your partner are on the same page, you can collaborate together to overcome conflict instead of feeling like its one of you vs the other. With the newfound confidence to navigate rough spots in your marriage, you will feel much more secure in your relationship and you will be able to trust that the two of you can navigate whatever difficulties life may throw at you and your relationship in the future.

Couples therapy in Santa Cruz, CA

I’m Connor Moss, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Soquel, Santa Cruz. I offer couples therapy as well as trauma therapy, depression therapy, and drug and alcohol counseling both in person at my Soquel office and online for anyone in California. If you are needing help in your marriage or relationship, please reach out today and I’d be happy to connect to see if I might be a good fit to help you. 

Photo of Connor Moss, LMFT

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