Two important caveats: Both genders are fully capable of playing any of these roles and the conflict patterns and styles are independent of the problem the partners are trying to resolve. Because the futile process itself is contaminated, the content of these arguments becomes unimportant and is therefore not amenable to a successful resolution.
9 Common Negative Conflict Patterns
1) Shouter versus Silent Martyr
These conflicts begin with rapid escalation and high drama. The shouting partner goes from no contact to explosive expression in seconds and often with little observable provocation. He or she is typically low in frustration tolerance in other areas of life as well.
The most often played role on the other end of a dramatic shouter is that of a silent martyr. This person gathers evidence of the other’s need to fill the room with sound and fury in a quiet, almost note-taking way. In doing, he or she racks up points as the unfairly attacked, unarmed, and unjustifiably receiver of criticism.
The interaction ends when the shouter runs out of energy after his or her attacks do not result in getting the other partner to take the blame.
2) Snarky versus Unflappable
One of the partners begins the conflict by giving little sarcastic jabs.
If there is no reaction, he or she escalates the attacks and makes them more and more pointed. If, as time elapses, there is no reaction from the other partner, the snarky prodder increases the frequency and focus, using everything he or she can to get the other to react.
Often these partners are married to unflappable, seemingly impassive people whose responses are non-responses. Stinging words fly by them as if they have no sound. Their inability to be reached infuriates their aggressor who typically walks out in a dramatic exit.
The partner left in his or her impenetrable cave usually then gets up and calmly resumes whatever was happening before the challenge occurred, as if no interaction has occurred.
3) Pursuer versus Runner
Once a disagreement emerges between these players, the pursuer will not, or cannot, stop him or herself from prolonging it. These people follow their partners from room to room, demanding the rehashing of the argument, sometimes for lengthy periods of time. They will nitpick every detail, demand more answers, and keep pushing for their own position to be accepted.
Runners sometimes are “innocent” provokers, wearing the halo of “accidental” criticism. At other times, they are harmony-seekers who are so uncomfortable with disruption of any kind that they will do anything they can to get away from continuing the battle.
These fights usually end when the partner seeking harmony just can’t stand it anymore and finally erupts. Oddly, that explosion tends to be the only behavior that stops the pursuer, as if that is what he or she wanted in the first place.
4) Threat-Maker versus Underdog
Whether it’s abandonment, exposure, denial, harm, or exile, a threat is any statement meant to control by fear. Threats can be meant simply to gain the advantage by throwing the other partner into submission. As such, they can run the gamut from intimidation in the present to emotional blackmail in the future.
When partners resort to threatening as part of an argument, they are clearly interested in dismantling or invalidating their partner’s capacity to impact the relationship in any way. Over time, the threatened partners either capitulate or leave them.
Many people carry previous experiences of emotional or physical abuse trauma into their current relationship and cannot separate love from fear of harm. They may unconsciously choose partners with whom they feel familiar, even if the relationship is painful.