I’m often asked, “What exactly is a low conflict marriage?” I guess since I push the idea that low conflict marriages should not fall prey to divorce, it is time I define, for those curious, what I mean by a “low conflict marriage.”
My marriage was a low-conflict marriage. We rarely argued, we treated each other with respect, and we enjoyed each other’s company. There were problems in the marriage; neither of us lived in a constant state of euphoria, but we were satisfied and happy. Some experts refer to this as a “good enough marriage.”
I won’t go into detail about the marital problems, but I will say that we suffered some emotional distress and were not equipped with the relationship skills needed to solve the problems. Our lack of those skills was the eventual undoing of our marriage.
Our children were secure, healthy, and happy. They had a good relationship with both parents and were not subjected to arguments and domestic violence in the home. I can say with certainty that neither had ever thought of the possibility of their parents divorcing.
We were your average, middle-class family. There were two cars, a beautiful home, and active social life. Our home was filled with friends and family for regular “get-togethers.” We laughed a lot, communicated deeply about our problems, and planned for our future.
What is a Low-Conflict Marriage?
It was not an “eat, pray, love” atmosphere, BUT it was a marriage in which most of the needs of both spouses were met. It was satisfactory but not always satisfying. There were moments when I wondered what life would be like outside the marriage. Could I meet someone who filled my every need? My ex had similar moments, I’m sure.
There were times when I couldn’t stand the sight of my then-husband when everything he did irritated me. I’m sure; that he had such moments also. We were not starry-eyed lovers; we were husband and wife raising a family and taking great joy in the results of all the hard work.
Our marriage didn’t make it through. Like many low-conflict marriages today, we fell victim to divorce…to taking the easy way out even though what we had was a perfectly acceptable union.
I encourage clients and friends in low-conflict marriages who are considering divorce to attempt to work it out for the children.
Check out the statistics below, and you will understand.
About 55% to 60% of divorces occur in low-conflict marriages. According to sociologist Dr. Paul Amato of Penn State University, divorces in these low-conflict marriages are very damaging to children because the surprised children have not been aware of the discord.
“Low-conflict divorces are very disturbing for children. The first time they discover something is wrong is when they come home to find Dad has moved out. Paul Amato, Ph.D., professor of sociology, demography, and family studies at Penn State, says, “the irony is that these divorces occur in marriages where there is some kind of reconciliation, some kind of positive outcome possible if there were an appropriate intervention.”
A study by Dr. Amato found two categories of children who are most at risk for future psychological problems: those who grow up with parents who stay married but remain conflicted and hostile and those whose parents are in low-conflict marriages and divorce anyway.
I find the last stat of most interest. Think about it, a child who lived with parents whose marriage was low conflict grows up to have the same psychological problems as children who lived in hostile, angry environments where the parents didn’t divorce.
In other words, if you divorce because you are “bored, unhappy or dissatisfied,” or for any other reason other than domestic abuse or serial adultery, you do as much harm to your children as children raised in far more conflicted families.
I can’t think of a better reason to define your marriage…low conflict or high conflict and work on saving it before divorcing than the possible negative consequences of divorce on your child/children.
“Good enough, rather than the fairy-tale model, which is a big disappointment, is a reasonable way to picture married life,” says Louanne Cole Weston, Ph.D., WebMD’s sex and relationship expert.
I’ve been divorced for 10 years and have done quite a bit of personal inventory since the divorce. I can look back now and realize that we both had romanticized notions and high expectations of marriage. We were looking for the “fairytale” and for marriage to make us happy.
I’ve learned that happiness doesn’t come from outside of us. A relationship or marriage will NOT make us happy. We bring happiness to the relationship and marriage, not the other way around.
So, if you’ve found yourself unhappy in your low-conflict marriage, maybe it isn’t the marriage that is the problem but your expectations of the marriage.
In my past life, I was a licensed Marital and Family Therapist. Although I’m still licensed, at this time, I’m not practicing. I divorced in my early 30s, remarried at 37 and gave birth to my first child at 38 and my second at 40. These days I’m a stay-at-home Mom enjoying my role as a mother, wife, and homemaker.
When my children are school age, I will return to the profession I love. Until then, I’m happy for the opportunity to write and hopefully help those who read my articles.