Infective vs Effective Escalation Curves

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:

Effective Escalation Curve © Paul H. Byerly

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.

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2 Comments on “Infective vs Effective Escalation Curves

  1. I appreciate the escalation curves you’ve used to illustrate here.  We lived the Ineffective curve for many years.  I could see the pattern, felt the “putting up” attitude, but did not register the reality of my husband’s need.  When he hit the top of the curve, I was a deer in the headlights.  
    At that point, he continued at that high level and EVERYTHING was a big deal.  No differentiation between small and large difficulties.  I finally realized we had a very large and long-standing issue, and began calling on God — and working to make changes in myself.  I was blind to my faults and my lack of attention to his needs (complaints, rantings, nagging, and so forth — as I perceived them).
    What men might need to understand here is this:  When a woman begins to make changes, believe that they are real and meaningful.  You will question her motivation.  
    My motivation was to rescue our relationships because I have always loved my husband.  We entered the phase of “drift” and ended up on opposite shores, both blind and stubbornly unmoving in our situation.  I saw the light and began to move toward it.  It took my husband a while to accept the “new me.”
    Now, retrospectively, I see so clearly (thank you, Hindsight).  These curves are IT.  Totally accurate, and true to our life.
    Thanks, Paul.  Great illustration!

    • @mindfull You are describing the common ending of the first curve – everything is a big deal, and small improvements are either not seen or not enough to matter. Congratulations for getting past it, that is not an easy task.

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