I see many couples deal with frustrations and problems in their marriage in ways that fail to bring about change. At some point, after month or years, they reach their limit and blow up, shut down, or leave.
If we plot this approach, we get something like the infective escalation curve below:
The level of confrontation, or voicing of the problem, has some ups and downs, but for months or years it remains about the same. This would be an on-going grumbling with a more pointed complaint every few weeks or months. Some of the ups and downs may be because of hints there might be a chance, or minor improvements. Some of the peaks are the result of a build-up of frustration. While there is some on-going effort to deal with the issue, the reality is the person who does not like the situation is basically putting up with it. Then, when they reach their limit, they escalate a huge amount in a short time.
If you are on the receiving end of an infective escalation curve, you probably do not see the issue as serious. Sure, your spouse says it is a problem, but they keep putting up with it. They gripe and nag, but that is about it. When they suddenly go ballistic, the tendency is to think, “What triggered that?” There is no clear trigger, and the easy assumption is that something has changed in them. The sudden escalation does not make sense. Given months or years of begrudging acceptance, the escalation is easy to tag as irrational, which excuses the spouse from feeling they have to do anything about the issue.
Below is a different approach, an effective escalation curve:
First notice that the time scale here is much shorter – no allowing the situation to go on and on without real confrontation. Initially the confrontation is small. Maybe there is a short-lived improvement, maybe not. When it is clear the other person is not taking the issue seriously enough, there is an increase in frequency and forcefulness of voicing the problem. Time is given to see if this will result in change. If there is no change, or not enough change, steady escalation follows.
An effective escalation curve sends a much clearer message. Reasonable amounts of time are offered for change, but when no change occurs the issue is pressed. The person on the receiving end cannot miss the fact that their spouse is upset about the situation, nor is there any reason to think they are just going to put up with it. The message is clear – this is unacceptable to me, and I am going to push for it to be resolved.
A note on comments: I have become increasingly frustrated with the comment system, so yesterday I moved to Livefyre. When you comment you can do so with an existing Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or OpenID account or you can set up a Livefyre account. You also have the option to post your comment to your Twitter feed or Facebook page. I have used Livefyre on several blogs as a commenter, and like how it works. Among other things, I hope this will keep spam out while allowing comments to show up without approval. We shall see.
Image Credits: © Paul H. Byerly