Which of these conflict styles do you see in your marriage?

Negative interpreter: When one partner (or family member) believes that the intentions of another are more negative than they really are. This belief diagnosis’, labels, or pigeon holes a loved one.

You might as well replace that definition with my name.

When Ryan and I were going through pre-marital counseling, we learned, according to author and marital researcher Scott Stanley, there are typically four ways individuals handle conflict. Escalation, withdrawal, invalidation, and negative interpretation. Researchers actually claim these four conflict styles best predict divorce (learn more about each style here).

We read about the symptoms of a negative interpreter, and we both chuckled. It was literally me. I am notorious for reading into his comments, putting words in his mouth, assuming that there’s more to the story, or simply believing things about him that are just not true. I would try to credit it to my keen sense of knowing what someone is really thinking… You know, because I’m a mind reader.

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Jokes aside, it was a real problem. I not only did this to him but to friends and family. Though, I wasn’t fully aware of this pattern until that night in counseling. Putting a label on this communication breakdown was probably one of the most beneficial takeaways for the future of our marriage. I vowed to put an end to my habit of negatively interpreting and we got married and lived happily ever after.


Yeah right. Here’s the thing about poor communication habits and unhealthy patterns of conflict: They are rooted so deeply into the fabric of our brains, that it takes quite a bit of work to get rid of them.

I had been negatively interpreting what people said to me (or didn’t say) for the last 15 to 20 years. I don’t know when or where it started, but it had become instinctual for me. Like a knee-jerk reaction, when conflict arose, I immediately began interpreting Ryan’s words, thoughts, and actions.  I would then later recognize that I had fallen back into my old ways.

While I had accurately identified and owned my struggle that night in pre-marital counseling, I had no idea how hard it was going to be for me to put it to death. In fact, I almost wore the label like a name tag. “Yup, that’s me! I’m a negative interpreter! That’s just my fatal flaw!”

It wasn’t until we were recently reading Scott Stanley’s book, The Lasting Promise, that I was reminded of the fact that while it is so great to admit to your struggle, you absolutely cannot stop there. You have to make a very active effort to root it out of your instincts.

Identify it in yourself, then make sure you do whatever you can, with the help of Jesus Christ, to kill it. Just labeling it is not enough.

It is the same when we recognize the sin in our lives. Yes, we should always start with the confession. But what comes after the confession of sin? Repentance. And what is biblical repentance? A change of mind that results in a change of action.

Acts 3:19 –  Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been gifted the opportunity to change our ways, to turn around, and to turn back to Him. We are no longer slaves to sin. While believers may still experience the temptation of sin, we have the ability to resist it because of the Holy Spirit living inside of us (Romans 8:26).

The same applies to your marriage. If you and your spouse are buried deep in paralyzing communication patterns and horrible habits of conflict, you don’t have to stay there. No matter the years of training your brain to respond a certain way, you can turn around, scratch the record, and start resisting the pattern you’ve fallen into.

Read this: Answered prayers for struggling marriages 

I’m sure I will continue to fight this habit of mine for a while, but I know that I’m not fighting it alone. Not only is the Holy Spirit helping me, but my husband is full of grace and patience, and we both refuse to accept anything that will try to get in the way of our marriage. We have recognized substantial improvement in the way we handle conflict already!

If you struggle with negative interpretation or the other conflict styles, know that God has something better in store for you and your spouse. Remember that your spouse is a son or daughter of God, you are both imperfect, and you are both in need of grace and patience.

There is hope. Do not give up. Your marriage depends on it.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6: 17-18

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Caitlin Jordan is the assistant editor for TheCourage. She most recently served as the assistant editor and social media manager of I Am Second. Caitlin is passionate about the importance of transparency and loving those that disagree with Christian beliefs. She lives with her husband, Ryan, in Dallas, Texas.


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