Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Discovering a Spouse’s Secret

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Discovering a Spouse’s Secret

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego

The spouse is having an affair
The spouse has been hiding an unhealthy addiction
The spouse lost their job and kept it from the character
The spouse has another family
The spouse is gay
The spouse has been hiding an escalating mental illness
The spouse is a serial criminal (killer, rapist, child abuser, drug or human trafficker, etc.)
The spouse has lied about their past (a wounding event, their biological parents, their medical history, etc.)
The spouse is fighting a terminal or communicable disease
The spouse has an unusual paranormal power
The spouse has been manipulating or gaslighting the character
The spouse has been engaging in illegal activity at work (embezzling, passing off other people’s ideas as their own, blackmailing, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Lost sleep due to worry
Minor stress-related health problems (headaches, an ulcer, high blood pressure, etc.)
Relationship friction with the spouse
Awkward conversations with others as the character tries to gain information
Having to explain the situation to other loved ones
Embarrassment over being the last to know
The character missing work so they can meet with people (doctors, lawyers, a private investigator, etc.)
The character standing up for the spouse, then realizing they’d been played

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The character’s reputation being ruined
The marriage ending in divorce
Fallout for the character’s children
The character being implicated as an accomplice despite their ignorance
Going bankrupt (due to the spouse’s financial irresponsibility, bills, etc.)
Developing a panic disorder or falling into depression
Serious physical ailments, such as heart disease or an STD
The character having to start over on their own (with little education or experience in the workplace, as a single parent, etc.)
Confiding in the wrong person and being betrayed, so the character’s words are used against them and their spouse

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling to trust the spouse again
Inner conflict about whether the character should try to work things out or give up on the relationship
Difficulty taking others at their word
Self-doubt as the character feels they should have seen what was happening
Guilt over the part the character’s ignorance or naïveté played

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the spouse, children, parents, the spouse’s accomplices or victims, families of those people

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, denial, depressed, despair, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, disillusionment, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, empathy, fear, frustration, guilt, horror, humiliation, hurt, hysteria, indignation, insecurity, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, rage, regret, resentment, self-pity, shame, shock, stunned, vulnerability, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Apathetic, controlling, cynical, gullible, macho, martyr, melodramatic, needy, subservient, suspicious, vindictive, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Being determined not to be blindsided in this way again
The character taking control of their life instead of letting others be in charge
Becoming an advocate for the people the spouse mistreated

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Jan Sikes
Jan Sikes
1 year ago

More fantastic info!!