Tag Archives: Conflict resolution

Monday Morning Moment – Conflict in Marriage – The Dance of Negative Escalation – with Esther Perel

Photo Credit: YouTube, Esther Perel

Do you have conflict in your marriage? Or even in roommate, friend, or family relationships? Maybe even at work with colleagues?
Of course, you do. Oh, there’s the rare situation where people can work out their differences amicably. My mom-in-law would always say she and our father-in-law never had a fight…well, once maybe. I’ve been around them in all sorts of situations, and I have to agree. Early in marriage, they worked out a system where they served each other and the family in complimentary ways. They genuinely loved and enjoyed each other.
Their oldest son, having grown up in this sweet and peaceful home, fell in love with a woman from a very different family…a home full of love but also where conflict and chaos sometimes reigned. That woman would be me.
Over the course of our 30+ years of marriage, we have matured. With age and experience, with resultant understanding, the fights are rare. The tears and silences are also pretty much absent.
We never ever considered divorce an option. Both of us have had too much experience with divorce (in my biological family and his in his extended family). We didn’t want it for ourselves or for our parents or children. So….we white-knuckled from time to time. In the end, I’m so thankful we hung in there with each other. It’s what I tell couples considering divorce…hang in there…it gets better.
OK…maybe not always, BUT the resources for helping us to do marriage and relationships are vast and easily accessible…if not in-person then online. If one or both of you are willing to inquire.
[Also, please, this is not meant to hammer anyone who’s experienced divorce. A betrayal is devastating and feels impossible to overcome.]
Dave and I had the opportunity just this weekend to hear couples therapist Esther Perel speak. She is Belgian and the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. She is married and has two sons. Her practice is international. She is a prolific writer and a life-long learner.
After hearing this brilliant, insightful, caring woman speak, I started looking for her online. So many YouTube videos, interviews, articles. Her podcasts, too. Among the topics was something she called a dance of negative escalation. What this entails is a process whereby two persons address an issue with one of maybe 3 or 4 responses.
  • Both listening and sharing, engaged, connected which would NOT be the dance of negative escalation.
  • Both withdrawing into their own thoughts – away from the perceived conflict or threat. Not outright escalation but no resolution either.
  • Both attacking, escalating into screaming and violence until…This wouldn’t even be considered a dance probably. I’m still learning.
  • One felt to be attacking, and the other felt to be withdrawing. This is where the dance takes place).

Perel defines this dance of negative escalation in this way: a “pattern occurs when one partner stonewalls and the other, in reaction to this refusal to engage, allows their emotions to escalate…For both partners the part of themselves they struggle with today is the very trait that saved them as a child. Sometimes what works as a survival strategy backfires when we are no longer under threat.”

“It takes two people to create a pattern, but only one to change it.”
Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence

All kinds of light bulbs went off for me in reading and listening to Perel talk about this phenomenon.
There are always two sides. Two views of a situation. With two different histories (all the way back to childhood potentially). Two different emotional meanings.
When a conflict builds, the combative one, the aggressor, is usually seen and experienced as “the bad guy”. However, we all know from the classroom, that a child can be drawn into a negative response through the badgering of or intentional exclusion by another child. Yet, when the teacher is late to notice the interaction, only one child, the responder, is disciplined, and the other seemingly “good child” is left unchecked in the altercation.
We all want to be heard, to be valued, and none of us want to carry the responsibility or blame of an escalation. Four things are mentioned by Perel as being devastating to a marriage or long-term relationship. This can also be true of work relationships. Any of these can mark a relationship in peril. They are:
  • Indifference
  • Neglect
  • Contempt
  • Violence

We don’t want to go there in our relationships. Or if one partner or the other is there, the other can still begin to make positive change.

If you are in a relationship with the pattern using the dance of negative escalation to deal with issues , there is such hope! The links below are incredibly helpful…and they are just a few of the many resources available by Esther Perel and others.

I just wanted to introduce this subject. For those of you who know you struggle with these negative cycles, start with the links and go on your own journey of healing and restoration.

In her talk the other night, Esther Perel described the experience of having more than one marriage, sometimes with the same person. In a way, I experienced that with my sweet husband. We have a thick cord of continuity through our marriage, but, in ways, our marriage has passed through such seasons that almost feel like we are in a different marriage. I’m so thankful we stuck it out with each other.

Remember, a negative cycle is the problem. It may have absolutely nothing to do with the character of either spouse. “Name the cycle” rather than blaming your explosive partner or feeling betrayed by the withdrawing one. Start there. Then take steps to slow down the conflict in a safe environment in order to see what is happening underneath. With grace, accountability (external and internal), and time, you can come out on the other side, stronger, healthier, and with love rekindled and restored.

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Where Should We Begin? Podcast – It’s Very Hard to Live with a Saint – Esther Perel – excellent example of the dance of negative escalation. The podcast is an actual marriage counseling session. If you prefer reading, the transcript is here.

Marital Destructive Styles of Communication – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Couples Negative Cycles – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Naming Your Negative Cycle – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Withdrawers  Desire Safety – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Negative Couples Cycle: Finding the Bad Guy – Kevin Leapley, Round Rock Couples Counseling

YouTube Video – Fight Smarter – Avoid the Most Common Argument Patterns – Esther Perel

Emotionally Focused Therapy – a Roadmap for Working with Couples (pdf) – Tanya Radecker

Series : Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse – Brad Hambrick – Dr. Hambrick is an excellent “counselor to the church”. He covers a lot of ground on this topic related to the different aspects of being self-centered in a marriage: the low emotional intelligence self-centered spouse, the lazy or apathetic self-centered spouse, the situationally explosive self-centered spouse, and the intentionally manipulative self-centered spouse. Fascinating. Great helps as well.

Growing in Negative Emotion Tolerance – Brad Hambrick

5 Friday Faves – Replacing Your To-Do List, Unsung Heroes, Legacy, Gaslighting, and Emotional Intelligence in Conflict

Here’s to another Friday. As the heat of summer fades slowly into the cooler shorter days of fall, at least some of us welcome the change. This, like so many weeks, has had its unexpected joys and challenges. I so appreciate the wisdom, helps, and encouragements that lift and help us to stay in our lanes.

Below you’ll find my 5 Friday Faves for this week plus as many bonuses at the end. It was a rich week…hope yours was as well. Also, please share any of your finds in the Comments section. We all can happily learn from each other.

1) Replacing Your To-Do List – Leadership coach Tony Stubblebine has posted a brilliant piece on doing away with our to-do lists. He prescribes a problem-solver, thinker model of interstitial journaling. This makes productive use of the space between completing one project and starting the next. It entails jotting a few sentences in a journal (electronic or paper) – summarizing what we finished and jumpstarting our thinking on what is before us. This takes our to-do lists to a whole new level of getting things done.

Replace Your To-Do List With Interstitial Journaling to Increase Productivity

Photo Credit: The Inner Sage Australia

“We weren’t built for multi-tasking, so transitions between projects are very tough. We end up getting lost in procrastination. Even when we manage to transition quickly into our next project, our brain is still thinking about the last project. That means our second project suffers from partial attention. The science of multi-tasking says partial attention can mean a 40% or more reduction in cognitive performance. The Interstitial Journaling tactic solves all of these normal problems. It kills procrastination, empties our brain of the last project, and then gives us space to formulate an optimal strategy for our next project.”Tony Stubblebine

This article is hosted on Medium which offers Members Only reading (free membership) but it should allow you to read it on a first-time link click. That’s how I found Medium…and lots of helpful reading through it.

Tony Stubblebine – Productivity, Habits & Life iPhone App

2) Unsung Heroes – As I write this week’s Friday Faves, we have just finished our remembrance of the 9-11 terror attack and losses of 2001. Reading again about so many courageous victims and families, first responders and a nation in shock and grief helps in sorting out afresh what happened that day.

We don’t know what was the intended target of hijacked Flight 93 but we do know that several of the passengers heroically charged the cockpit. Among them were  Todd Beamer  and Mark Bingham. What courage!

“Let’s roll.” – The Real Story of Flight 93 – Ed Vulliamy

Another man I didn’t know about until this year was Rick Rescorla. He was the director of security for a very large company in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. After the first plane crashed in the North Tower, the building occupants were advised to stay at their desks, but he knew better. Rescorla got them all out as quickly as possible and returned to the building to make sure that everyone was out. He never got out with the collapse of the South Tower.

This running into danger instead of away is what we’ve come to expect of first responders, but we should never stop remembering them…or the cost they often pay.

3) Legacy – This week, seminary professor Chuck Lawless posted a thought-provoking piece on leaving a legacy – What Kind of Shadow Are You Leaving Behind?  He listed 14 possible “shadows” we cast for our children, colleagues, and friends. They include: Unbounded Love, Continual Selfishness, Material Idolatry, Genuine Faith, Committed Parent.Photo Credit: Pixabay

We cast shadows whether we plan them or not. They happen over time. Better for all of us to decide and intentionally establish what kind of shadow, what kind of legacy, we leave for those we love.

After you read his list, what would you add? If you comment, I’ll also share the ones that came to mind not on the list.

4) Gaslighting  – Have you ever heard this term? I had this extraordinary Aha moment this week when this term came across my Twitter feed. If you’ve had this experience you will find these definitions familiar:

“Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.” – Wikipedia

“Gaslighting is a colloquial term that describes a type of psychological abuse in which the abuser denies the victim’s reality, causing him/her to question him/herself, his/her memory, or his/her perceptions. The term gaslighting is also sometimes used to apply to the use of inflammatory behavior or language that provokes someone to behave in an uncharacteristic way.” – TheGoodTherapy.org Team

Gaslighting often happens in relationships when one person uses a sometimes subtle manipulation to cause the other to think maybe she/he misunderstood or over-reacted to something the former did or said. In this unhealthy situation repeated over the course of the relationship, the one being “gaslighted” can begin to distrust her/himself and even go as far as to question their sanity.

I have had this experience and it is highly unsettling.

Think of how brutal this can be for a twosome, family, or work team.

Read psychologist Stephanie Sarkis‘ two pieces below. Very helpful.

11 Signs of Gaslighting in a Relationship

Are Gaslighters Aware of What They Do? – Stephanie Sarkis

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

You’re Not Going Crazy: 15 Signs You’re a Victim of Gaslighting – Aletheia Luna

5) Emotional Intelligence in Conflict – Even people with strong emotional intelligence can find themselves off-balance when in conflict with someone. Leadership writer Marcel Schwantes gives counsel for this in 7 Brilliant Things Emotionally Intelligent People Do When Their Buttons Are Pushed.Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Schwantes encourages us to respond rather than react in a conflict situation. His seven action points follow (read more of his article for his commentary on each one).

  1. Get perspective.
  2. Take a 6-second pause.
  3. Stay humble.
  4. Try empathy.
  5. Ask the most conflict-diffusing question. [“Are you ok?” What’s going on?”….what else would you think would diffuse the situation?]
  6. Speak from your authentic self.
  7. Be the first to reach out after conflict.

Don’t miss the brief video at the end of Schwantes’ piece on 3 Simple Questions to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence.

Okay, Friends…let’s have a safe weekend, enjoy the weather, and be kind to those along the way.

Bonuses – Fascinating and worthy of their own Friday Faves slot – it was a rich week of learning and savoring what others bring to the table.

You Went to a Funeral and Then You Went Home – Courtney

Ryan JonYouTube Video – I’ve Never Met My Biological Mother

A Child’s Brain Develops Faster with Exposure to Music EducationAnita Nee

YouTube Video – The Clothing Industry Wants to Make Us Shop – More Waste – Opposing Views or Opposing Views’ Facebook page

How America’s Health Care System Got So Jacked Up – and How We Can Fix It – Jonathan Clark