Tag Archives: Friendships

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

Worship Wednesday – Friends – Michael W. Smith

Photo Credit: Pixabay

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13

Forever friends. What a grace of God! These are friends we don’t choose necessarily. They choose us, almost in spite of our own failings at being friends ourselves.

I thank God for the friends who have coursed with us across continents, through births and deaths, and in both the mundane and extraordinary of life. Today we’re settled, for the most part, and there are days, in the solitude of this current life that I wonder if I have friends (I know…silly thoughts…when too much alone).

In truth, this life of mine has been full of friends…lifelong, through all sorts of troubled water, friends.

Some of these friends turned out to be family, while others God Himself brought across our paths and a spark of commonality and community blazed into a fire. A fire that has warmed my heart from days to decades. A fire that snaps me out of my doldrums to be a better friend myself.

Am I having a kumbaya moment? Absolutely.

Friendship is not something to be trifled with in life. I’m learning (thankful for friends who have suffered long with me over the years).

Part of what has stirred this gratefulness today is in reading Scott Sauls’ book Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear. Each short but full chapter addresses a kind of friendship in our lives. Within each kind of friendship, Sauls points to the kindness and mercy of God within those relationships…and how, in both strength and weakness, we have our place.

Photo Credit: Amazon

Another writer, Dave Zuleger, exposes our cultural bias of casualness with friendships.

We need to begin defining true friendship and brotherly love not by conforming to cultural expectations, but by looking at the face of Jesus and being changed to look and love more like him (2 Corinthians 3:18). When we look at Jesus, we find a friend who loves when we are unlovable, and a brother willing to die for us, even when we didn’t deserve it. We find and experience a love utterly unlike what we normally find in ourselves, in our own hearts.

We can be such fickle friends, distancing ourselves from difficult people and situations. If someone seems too immature, too demanding, or too inconvenient, we bail. We find excuses (legitimate ones of course!) to distance ourselves from these kinds of friends. Yet, Jesus — the perfect, holy Son of God — went and hung out among wicked sinners who were extremely immature, difficult, and even dangerous (they crucified him!). – Dave Zuleger

Zuleger’s words reminded me of a very old song by Sharalee Lucas:

I see Jesus in your eyes, and it makes me love Him

I feel Jesus in your touch, and I know He cares

I hear Jesus in your voice, and it makes me listen

And I trust you with my love, because you’re His.

I see Him…Sharalee Lucas

This is the sort of friendship I’ve known. That friend who came quietly to sit with Dave during my cancer surgery. Those friends whose love for my mama has been lavished on me since her death. The friend from work who refuses to define or disdain me by my different political views. The friend neglected who gives me grace. The friends who see value in me that I don’t see. The friends who include me in their great works. The friends who love in spite of…

A cherished local friend told me recently that she was moving away within the next few months. Thinking of losing her, I was reminded of another old song about friends – the one Michael W. Smith published in 1983. We never have to lose a friend. As our travels over the last 20+ years have shown us, God gives us forever friends, not limited by time or geography. For this mercy, I will always be grateful to Him.

[BTW – for any younger friends who can’t wrap their sensibilities around this old song – I would love to know songs about friends that are super meaningful to you – so please let me know in the Comments.]

Worship with me, please…the God who calls us friend and who gives us the great grace of friends.

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
I can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter of your life is through
But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

And with the faith and love God’s given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you live in
Is the strength that now you show

We’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

To live as friends

Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends

No a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends*

 We need to learn to see every friendship through the lens of the work of Christ on our behalf. To see that at the cross there is more than enough grace to cover a multitude of sins committed against us. To see the cross of Christ as the depth of suffering a perfect Brother was willing to endure. We need to remember a true brother moves closer when times get harder, and never leaves or forsakes a friend, even when the trial lasts a lifetime. – Dave Zuleger
Here’s to friends (images of just a few of the many amazing friends – would put up a lot more and you would get tired of scrolling) that God has given over the years):

*Lyrics to Friends (1983)

Song Facts – Friends – Songwriters: Michael W. & Debbie Smith

The Best Friends Are Born For Adversity – Dave Zuleger

Find a Friend to Wound You – Greg Morse