A common misconception about fighting is that its presence in a relationship is a sign that the two people are no longer in love and that their relationship might be falling apart.
This could not be further from the truth.
The sign to a healthy relationship is not how often a couple fights, but how well the couple fights.
No one will have a fight-free marriage. We are human; we are selfish; we will fight. It is beyond our control. But something that we do have control over is the way we fight. Naturally, we all would like to think we are good fighters, but researchers have found a big disconnect between the way someone thinks they respond to their spouse and the way they actually respond. The book Fighting for Your Marriage presents numerous studies where couples’ arguments were filmed, and later, the participants did not accurately describe their behavior toward their partners.
Fighting for Your Marriage describe four different destructive patterns that are common between couples and will draw a negative outcome from a fight. They are Escalation, Invalidation, Withdrawal and Avoidance, and Negative Interpretations. Over the next four blog posts, I will describe each one of these destructive patterns.
Destructive Pattern #1 – Escalation
Have you ever seen a small squabble turn into a huge blowup? Maybe this situation seems familiar to some of your arguments in the past.
SALLY: Hey, Joe. What do you think about these paint colors for the kitchen?
JOE: (distracted by the TV) ummm…….I told you…..already. I like….10 YARD PENALTY!? What in the world, ref! You need to find a job you are ACTUALLY GOOD AT!
JOE: … (intently watching the game)
SALLY: (getting frustrated) Joe! What color?
SALLY: (yells) Joe! Turn off that TV and listen to me!
JOE: (yells back) This is my den! Today is Sunday! Let me enjoy the game, Woman!
SALLY: You know this is just like you! You never have time for me!
JOE: I never have time for you because you are such a nag! Nag, nag, nag! That’s all you do! Will you just quit it?
SALLY: You know, you are just like your father! He never cared for his wife either! All he did was sit on his butt watching the stupid TV! No wonder why she left him!
JOE: Well, if I am so much like my father, maybe you should just leave, too! You certainly don’t seem to care about staying in this stupid relationship anyway!
SALLY: Yeah? Well, maybe I will just leave! We all know how your mother upgraded in her second marriage anyway!
Escalation will take an argument and intensify until it blows out of proportion. Each side will say something slightly more hurtful and say it at a slightly louder level than what was previously said. Eventually, the anger and frustration get so high that painful and hurtful comments are said that are very difficult to heal from.
Escalation can be extremely dangerous because it can cause people to say things that threaten the safety of the relationship. “As frustration mounts, people go from wanting to be heard by the other to wanting to hurt the other,” says Fighting for Your Marriage. The hurtful things that can be said, or even the physical violence that can occur, will deeply destroy the intimacy and trust that the couple needs to survive.
Escalation might not lead to loud outbursts or physical abuse, but could very well be subtle. It could be that negative statements could be refuted with negative statements. Fighting for Your Marriage states that research has shown that even this cycle of negativity can lead to divorce later on in the relationship.
How can escalation be prevented?
Escalation will occur in every relationship, but some couples have discovered how to get out of the escalating cycle more quickly. Here is an example of avoiding escalation that the book gave:
MARIA: (annoyed) You left the butter out again.
ESTEVAN: (irritated) Why are little things so important to you? Just put it back.
MARIA: (softening her tone) Things like that are important to me. Is that so bad?
ESTEVAN: (calmer) I guess not. Sorry I was nasty.
See what happened there. It took one of them to step back and make the humble decision to lower their tone and speak with love toward the other person. Breaking the escalation cycle takes only one person to actively choose to act graciously with the other person.
It also helps if you acknowledge your partner’s point of view. This is what Estevan decided to do with Maria, and it helped put an early end to a situation that could have led to a possible blow out.
Escalation is something that can occur in all types of relationships, not just marriage. Keep a look out for when you are in one of these situations with family or friends, and attempt to use some of these tools to diffuse tension. You might just prevent a nasty fight or two as well as prepare yourself for your future marriage.
If you want to read more about escalation, or about fighting in marriage, check out Fighting for Your Marriage.
To be continued…