I see 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 happen because of hints there might be a chance, or minor improvements. Some of the peaks are the result of built-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 dramatically in a short time.
If you’re on the receiving end of an infective escalation curve, you probably do ‘t 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’s 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 something has changed in them. The sudden escalation doesn’t make sense. Given months or years of begrudging acceptance, the escalation is easily tagged as irrational, which excuses the spouse from feeling they need to do anything about the issue.
Below is a different approach, an effective escalation curve:
First notice 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 becomes clear the other person is not taking the issue seriously enough, there’s an increase in frequency and forcefulness of voicing the problem. Time is given to see if this will result in change. If there’s 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 can’t miss the fact their spouse is upset about the situation, nor is there any reason to think they’re going to put up with it. The message is clear – this is unacceptable to me, and I’m going to push for it to be resolved.