Dissecting Conflict Theory’s Role in Divorce


  • Conflict theory is a theory that claims that society is in a state of perpetual conflict, due to competition for limited resources.
  • In the dichotomy of a marriage, many couples feel that there is an imbalance in the day-to-day interactions within the confines of the relationship and that the continuance of that type of imbalance can breed marital conflict.
  • Children of divorce may employ conflict theory though the act of looking for a better balanced relationship in their future pursuits.

"As far as conflict theory goes, the paradigm of one side having an unequal share is something that many who experience a divorce can relate to."

When marital problems first arise, the concept of relationships is often questioned by those facing the prospect of a divorce. The thought process is that if they could not make their relationship function the way it is supposed to and they are not experiencing the happiness that they thought their relationship would entail, how are relationships, as a whole, supposed to work?

As a society, marriage and relationships find themselves in a constant state of being under the microscope, due to how much we, as a society, value them as institutions. The value placed on marriage and relationships is the reason why the institution of divorce exists, as a way of resolving the conflicts and giving the individuals an opportunity to find interpersonal dynamics that function better and make them happier.

From a sociological perspective, there are different ways of modeling how we, as individuals within society, view societal institutions. One of the methods is through conflict theory.

Learning more about conflict theory

Conflict theory is an idea coined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that claims that society is in a state of perpetual conflict, due to competition for limited resources, according to Investopedia. The theory suggests that social order is maintained by domination and power, rather than consensus and conformity and that those with power and wealth attempt to hold onto it by any means possible.

Conflict theory is a position built on the notion that two parties are coming from unequal positions, according to the University of Minnesota. The modern interpretation stems from the idea that these two groups have different interests that come from their different social positions. Because the two groups come from different places and have different positions on various issues based on their differences as individuals, conflict will surface.

In order to balance out the conflict, reduce the perception of inequality and promote social stability, social change will be enacted to correct the issues that the two groups face.

Conflict theory and marriage

In the dichotomy of a marriage, many couples feel that there is an imbalance in the day-to-day interactions within the confines of the relationship and that the continuance of that type of imbalance can breed marital conflict.

For example, one spouse may have an interest in specific gender roles within the marriage where they set expectations. The other spouse may not be interested in the inequality that these roles represent, creating the marital strife that follows the beats of conflict theory. The unsatisfied spouse is seeking more than what the expectations and roles offer, creating conflict and emotional unbalance.

The balance of power between partners or spouses can employ conflict theory. Because of how conflict theory focuses on the power dynamics in relationships, the conflict is not actually the problem, but the method to which new realities that the individuals in the couple can create.

This allows for the sense of entitlement that can develop in aspects of relationships to be challenged. How a spouse is valued and treated can be looked at as currency in this struggle, and this can add weight onto the relationship and create additional challenges for any children caught in the crossfire.

Conflict theory and children of divorce

There also are ways of looking at how children of divorce deal with the idea that incorporate the conflict theory, according to “Marriages and Families in the 21st Century: A Bioecological Approach” by Tasha R. Howe.

Children of divorce may deal with parental conflict through the development of coping mechanisms to help them endure some of the more challenging moments of being caught in the middle of the situation. Through applying conflict theory, the children may look to promote social change in their future relationships by looking to avoid the unequal dichotomy that their parents’ relationship may have featured.

With children, it is important to note how reactionary their development can be. For example, being caught in the middle of an emotionally-charged custody fight for most of their lives will cause them to react differently than being caught in an emotionally-charged custody fight for a few months, before calmer heads and the benefits of shared parenting prevail as a viable option. The development of their coping mechanisms may function differently or may not be of the same strength as those that have endured difficult divorces and custody battles.

Inequality’s role in action

As far as conflict theory goes, the paradigm of one side having an unequal share is something that many who experience a divorce can relate to. Many feel that the court system creates the inequality after assets are divided and custody is determined.

Others find the inequality in existence before a divorce was pursued, making the act of a divorce the social change needed to pursue balance. Either way, understanding that inequality is the basis of action will serve as a motivating factor to help you in your case moving forward.

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