top of page

Episode 2: The Secret to Resolving Conflict in Marriage

Announcer: [00:00:00] [instrumental music]

Today on Hopeful Tomorrows.

Missy Irvin: [00:00:05] You’re sharing your emotions, and those are more vulnerable.

Derek Irvin: [00:00:10] Yeah, I mean let’s be honest, when you share your vulnerable emotions and they aren’t received, it’s almost worse than if I hadn’t shared those vulnerable emotions at all.

Announcer: [00:00:22] The Hopeful Tomorrows podcast is hosted by Derek and Missy Irvin. Each episode, they share key insights for marital success and how to have thoughtful, beneficial communication in your relationship. On this episode of the Hopeful Tomorrows podcast, we explore strategies for resolving conflict and how to navigate strong emotions.

Derek Irvin: [00:00:40] Most couples don’t really have a consistent way to truly resolve conflict. Instead, here’s how it typically goes. Something will happen and things heat up. And then after a while, depending on how big the issue is, they become more silent, more distant in their frustration with each other. And then again, after a while, they come back together. After all, they have a household to run. There are kids to raise. And they come back together like everything is fine, but they’ve not resolved anything. They’ve just brushed it under the rug. Today, we’re going to share with you three principles for truly resolving conflict.

Missy Irvin: [00:01:21] The first principle is that timing matter. So, when you’re in the heat of the moment, that’s not the time to try to resolve the conflict.

Derek Irvin: [00:01:29] Really when you just want to be right.

Missy Irvin: [00:01:31] [laughs]

Derek Irvin: [00:01:31] You want to win and you’re sure you’re right, and so you want to keep going, even when it’s destructive to the relationship.

Missy Irvin: [00:01:38] Right. Yes. It’s so tempting that that’s when we want to try to resolve it, that brain science tells us that’s the absolutely worst time to try to resolve conflict, is when we’re heated emotionally, because we’re, when we’re in our emotional brain, when we’re highly emotional, we can’t think logically or rationally. It is physiologically impossible. So, we want to get to the place where our brain has cooled down so we’re able to address things in a, in a rational and logical way, in, in a calm way.

Derek Irvin: [00:02:10] Yeah. So what that means practically is we’ve got to have a consistent way when we get to that edge of the point of no return, that we have a way to step out of the conversation. We find it very helpful to have code words that we can use that kind of indicate that. And one that we use, and we encourage other couples to use, is a timeout. And so you get to that moment where things are really heated, and you say, “Look, I need a timeout because this is not going anywhere productive at all.”

Missy Irvin: [00:02:40] Yeah. And timeouts aren’t easy. They really aren’t, but we have to know that if you don’t take that timeout, things are just going to spiral and get worse and worse. So, especially, there’s, in a relationship, typically one who wants to engage in the conflict and one who wants to withdraw from the conflict. So, the timeout affects us each differently.

Derek Irvin: [00:03:01] It absolutely does. The person in the relationship who wants to engage is what we call a pursuer. And so the pursuer really wants connection, and when there’s conflict, as you can imagine, that connection is broken. And so, in our relationship, I’m the pursuer, and man, when we get to that moment and you say, “I think we need a timeout,” there’s a part of me that wants to just keep on going. And so, one of the key principles of using a timeout is you’ve got to respect the timeout. You can’t continue to follow the person around the house from room to room because you still want to talk about it, even though the timeout’s been called.

Missy Irvin: [00:03:42] Yeah, and the other person in the relationship is the withdrawer, and that’s more me. And I love the timeout because when we’re in the moment, in the heat of the argument, I can’t think clearly. I need a time just to really gather my thoughts and figure out why I’m so upset and what about it is making me angry or upset. So, that timeout is good, but with a pursuer, you have to know that they’re really anxious during that timeout time. So, we have to talk about a time that we’re going to come back and address it. So you can say, “I need a timeout. Let’s talk about it after the kids are in bed tonight.” And that’ll help really settle the pursuer down.

Derek Irvin: [00:04:21] Yeah, it absolutely does. It’s so helpful to know that we are in fact going to come back to this. You know, so if you find yourself in that place of the point of no return, calling a timeout is a great way to be able to take a step back and be able to come back later when dealing and working through this conflict will actually be productive.


Missy Irvin: [00:04:48] The second principle in resolving conflict in marriage constructively is that wording matter. You know, one of the things that makes conflict so difficult to resolve constructively is that when we’re upset with our spouse, we have all these feelings and these emotions, and we don’t know what to do with those. And what we do with those emotions and how we come across to our spouse is either going to resolve the conflict or make things worse.

Derek Irvin: [00:05:13] Yeah. And so often one of the reasons why we don’t engage in talking about things, or we brush them under the rug, is that we have no reasonable belief that talking about it will actually make it go better.

Missy Irvin: [00:05:25] Well, yeah, because in the past, history would tell us that it hasn’t gone well. If you haven’t learned to resolve conflict well, you just fight, you blow up, and then you just sweep it under the rug and nothing gets resolved.

Derek Irvin: [00:05:39] Yeah. You know, you hear people talk about the phrase, emotional safety in a relationship. And they can be referring to different things, but as it relates to resolving conflict, I think a great working definition of emotional safety is really just having a belief that if we talk about it, that we can make things better, as opposed to if we talk about it, things will get much worse.

Missy Irvin: [00:06:04] Yeah. So, when you have a conflict, try to resolve it using this kind of phrase. When this happened, it made me feel like this because of this reason. That helps you to be able to really frame things in a way that they’re going to be able to understand and it’s, it’s not accusatory.

Derek Irvin: [00:06:22] Yeah. When you don’t do that, which you do what is human nature, and you phrase, here’s what’s happening. Here are your motives for why it happened. Well, things go something like this.

Missy Irvin: [00:06:34] Yeah. So, let’s just give you an example on this. Let’s say Derek comes home late. He comes home at like 9:00, and I’m expecting him at 6:00. And if I address like this. Derek, you’re home at 9:00. You were supposed to be home at 6:00. I-I tried calling you. You didn’t answer your phone. You didn’t even call me. That is so selfish.

Derek Irvin: [00:06:53] Selfish? Really? That’s what you’re going to say I am? The only reason I’m having to work so many hours is because you spend money like it’s going out of style?

Missy Irvin: [00:07:01] What? I spend money?

Derek Irvin: [00:07:01] And then you gripe about it.

Missy Irvin: [00:07:03] No. No, you’re the one who wanted to buy that expensive car. And so, on and on it goes, and you’re fighting about something completely different and you escalate and it gets worse and worse. Does any of this sound familiar? We do it all the time. So, try phrasing things, after you’ve taken that timeout, when things are starting to get heated, you’re not going to resolve it, you take that timeout and you phrase it more like this. So, Derek, you’re home at 9:00. I thought you were going to come home at 6:00, and I couldn’t get ahold of you. I tried calling. Um, I was really concerned and I also felt unconsidered because I had dinner ready for us at 6:00.

Derek Irvin: [00:07:44] So, when she communicates like that, the odds of me really connecting with her heart and giving her what her heart needs, which is for me to connect with the fact that she felt concerned, uh, with the fact that she felt not considered when I didn’t call and was unreachable. Well, the odds of that going well are much greater when it’s presented in that sort of format, of here what’s what happened and here is the impact that it had on me.

Missy Irvin: [00:08:13] Yeah. And it’s hard to do that. Um, first it takes, um, discipline to decide, I’m going to phrase it like this in intentionality. But also, it’s, it’s vulnerable. You’re sharing your emotions and those are more vulnerable.

Derek Irvin: [00:08:30] Yeah, I mean let’s be honest. When you share your vulnerable emotions and you put yourself out there, there’s a risk to that. If I share my vulnerable emotions and they aren’t received, it’s almost worse than if I hadn’t shared those vulnerable emotions at all. And so, when we do that, we take a risk. And so it’s, it’s super important for the person who’s responding to be able to respond well, and we’ll talk about that in a later video. But to be able to word it well is so key.

Missy Irvin: [00:09:01] Yeah. The thing with vulnerable emotions too is when you share that, it brings you together. When you share those reactive emotions, those angry, uh, hurtful emotions, and present it in that way, it pushes you further apart. So, understanding that, sharing it in that way and how wording matters to resolve conflict is going to give you the chance to really be able to get to the bottom and make things better.


The third principle in effectively resolving conflict in your marriage is that response matters. So, we talked about how wording matters, and now we’re going to talk about how response matters. So, let’s say that you do a beautiful job of wording things and you do it in a calm way. You don’t attack. You have great self-control, and you talk about how you feel. Well, how your spouse reacts to that is going to be just as important.

Derek Irvin: [00:10:00] That is so true, because your spouse is coming to you with that vulnerable emotion, and I think of these moments really as sacred moments in a relationship. It’s that moment where you’re either going to take their message and you’re going to turn it on them, uh, or you’re going to connect with it. You know, it’s so easy to do. We, we’ll try to connect with the content of that message through logic. We’ll try to fix it, or we will blame them or get defensive or withdraw. All of these things really give our spouse sharer’s remorse. They really regret that they ever came to us with that vulnerable emotion in the first place.

Missy Irvin: [00:10:43] So, how do you do this? Well, we like to say, you want to connect and reflect. That’s the principle here, connect and reflect. So, you want to connect with their emotion first. And let’s say Derek comes to me and says I did something and it made him feel disrespected. Well, even if I didn’t mean to and that wasn’t my intent, it still had that impact on him. So, I need to be able to connect with that if I don’t understand it or if I don’t agree with it. If I think he shouldn’t feel that way, it really doesn’t matter. It matters that I connect, that it did make him feel that way.

Derek Irvin: [00:11:18] Yeah. So, when we connect and we reflect, we connect with the emotion, and we also connect with the other person’s perspective. In any type of disagreement, typically you have competing perspectives. My spouse has a perspective, I have a perspective. And one of the reasons why couples don’t resolve conflict is they don’t focus on one perspective at a time. Watch yourself next time you’re in an argument and notice your tendency to want to grab the perspective and shift it back to yours. They make a point about how it impacted them and we want to say, “Yeah, but here’s how it impacted me.” And when we do that, we are not connecting with the emotion, we’re not connecting with the perspective, and it typically doesn’t go well.

Missy Irvin: [00:12:04] Right. So after you’ve connected with the emotion and you’ve connected with their perspective, you want to reflect. And basically that is just paraphrasing back what they said. If Derek says, when I said something about him in front of his friends and it made him feel disrespected, I would just paraphrase that back. “Okay, so when I said that in front of our friends, that made you feel disrespected.” That’s reflecting it back.

Derek Irvin: [00:12:31] Yeah. I think when you do this, anytime you can sort of have an implied tone or sense of, I can really see how a person could feel that way based on what you were perceiving. When you’re able to step inside their shoes, it just kind of calms things all at once when you do that.

Missy Irvin: [00:12:50] Yeah. That’s when we feel heard, we really feel heard and understood by our spouse when they can reflect back what we’re feeling and say, “Okay. I get why you would feel that way.” It’s so powerful. So let’s use our example earlier when I say to Derek, “Derek, you were home at 9:00 and I was concerned. I couldn’t call you. I couldn’t get ahold of you. And it made me also feel, um, just unthought of because I had dinner ready for us at 6:00.”

Derek Irvin: [00:13:21] Yeah. So, in that moment, how I respond is going to be really important, and I find a great way to start is with the words, “So what you’re saying is.” And I would simply put it in my own words. So, so what you’re saying is, is that when I didn’t call and I didn’t, you didn’t have any way to get in touch with me, it makes sense that you’d be concerned. I mean, you didn’t know where I was or what was going on. And then I also get your point that it wasn’t very considerate or thoughtful, uh, for me not to do that. And so when we do that, we set ourselves up to be able to take ownership for our part in it and to truly be able to resolve the conflict.


Announcer: [00:14:01] Thank you for listening to this episode of the Hopeful Tomorrows podcast, hosted by Derek Irvin, a board certified pastoral counselor, and Missy Irvin, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Derek and Missy are a married couple committed to provide healing for those struggling in their relationships. For more information on Hopeful Tomorrows and to register for a weekend retreat, please visit our website at

bottom of page