Friday, February 7, 2014

Escalation (good at) vs Deescalation (learning)

First this is what happened...THE CONFLICT. I hate conflict like this and after years I shut down, dead inside. I am trying to feel again and handle my issues (and his) and address them in the appropriate way. I learned a lot in the past 2 days. Here is my journey:

I am going to write these thought down but then I am done feeling the pain of them. My husband feels no remorse for the way he treated me last night and I am not going to feel pain for something I did not do or say.
Starts out like this: I am just getting ready for my son's birthday, running kids for piano lessons, ran out of baking powder and cake delayed, and I got home a few minutes late because I was talking to a friend who needed a listening ear. Well I walk through the door and hubby says let me show you something (after he complains I am late and pizza is getting cold). We walk outside in the cold and he shows me the front grill of the car. It is a 10 year old car that replaced the totaled car my son wrecked. He said I like my new (old) car but this front grill is an eyesore...etc. I look up close. It has no damage...only fading. I think wow this is an easy fix. I say lets just spray paint it. It would be easy. It is just plastic. He then reacts and it goes downhill from there. I don't want it spray will look is only $ has a plastic coat and you can't paint it without it looking bad (what is spray paint??? a coating of a plastic sort that actually works well over plastic) is chrome painted....yes chromes spray paint on plastic ....a very easy fix to spray paint (they actually make chrome colored spray paint). What a mess to turns into. I say this is ridiculous to spend $75 when it can be fixed for $5 and look brand new. He says I don't want a spray painted one (Today I think maybe he already ordered it and has to fight because he already bought it....just some good old mind reading but sure sound plausible for the reaction)

 It went on to an escalation. You always get your way. You are a hypocrite. I didn't even want these cars. I wanted to look for cars. (I talked to him and he agreed it was a good deal)  At some point daughter gets fingers squished by chair from brother pushing his out....hubby reacts again and tries to grab son's arm. I said it was just an accident. He pulls away from situation. He continues with his get your way with everything. You are getting your way with the flooring. I said yes I am good at picking out those kind of things. It is what I am good at. ON and On he is your way and that is attack and don't listen to me...etc.

After a while of this and getting no where I said....You are acting crazy. What happened? Do you need to talk about something? What is going on? .....he breaks in now you are mind reading.

I am done with this conversation. He continues...NO you are not allowed to be done with this conversation. I am not done. You.....and he continues with this line of talk in the kitchen in front of the kids on our son's birthday.

I am in shock. I feel myself come out of my body and look at the situation from the outside and his words are going around and around in circles in his conversation and the it lead me me thinking is he making me think I am crazy again. I said to my mind and heart. Mind and Heart you are GOOD, and STRONG, and BRAVE, and HONEST, and FAITHFUL, and this is not how a husband should treat his wife. Again I say....I AM DONE....NO he says. YES I AM.

I pick up the phone. I need help. Son #1 had gone upstairs and is crying or shut down. Daughter and the little ones are huddled around a laptop playing a game. Son #2 is zoned out on the other computer.
I pick up the phone call the answer...leave message. I call his answer...leave a message. He said I can't believe you just called my mom. I said I am not doing this alone. I refuse to be treated this way. I will not run into the master closet and curl up in a ball and cry alone. Look at how you are treating me. He says...If you are calling my mom then I am going to call your mom. I said OK, I will dial the for you .

I pick up the phone and call her. I tell my mom. Your son needs someone to listen to how he is feeling and give the phone to hubby. He spends the next 1.5 hours or so talking to my mom, the bishop, and his mom. When I called my mom later, I see that he portrayed the perfect pity party to her and convinced her that I am the problem. NO I WILL NOT BE BLAMED FOR HIS MISERY!!! I am sure he did that with his mom and the bishop as well. I sure they have a clear picture of how crazy I AM. He is good at that...done it for 20 years. Addicts are experts at that. Wife is the problem. I said,  if you think I am the problem why are you still with me? So STUPID!!!

 Intermission: spoke with couselor for 45 minutes on the phone. Wow I had new light and felt better continued:

.......counselor just called when I got to this point in my post. There is something amazing about venting to a therapist. I am sure there is some weird psychobabble regarding how talking to a therapist is helpful.
Well he is very truthful with me. We are on the phone and I relate to him what happened above. He is usually tells me like it is. I can take it at this point in my recovery.

He said there are 4 things that destroy a marriage (or conversation for that matter). Contempt, stonewalling, defensiveness, and criticism. He said you both did them. He said hubby did lots wrong but he said there are things I did wrong as well. He said when you get defensive it also breaks things down no matter what he said. I can deescalate the situation but it has to be done early or it is usually already escalated. I said when he took me out to the car I was shock with how he responded that I did become defensive. He said that is when I should have intervened. I could have said. Can we talk about his later? I have a birthday party waiting inside and it looks like we are not going to be able to work it out now. Can we just wait till another time and talk about this? I know a response like this would have deescalated it from the start.

I have the power to deescalate. My first sign of a need to deescalate should have been the SHOCK if felt. He really had empathy for what I am doing. He said even after 5 years have gone. You will have done more work and had to suffer more. It really is not fair but I guess if in the end all is well that ends well. I will not have suffered in vain.

I told him how I react when I feel a trigger. For instance... Say we are watching a show and a scene comes on that sends a trigger inside me (almost like a mini panic). The first sign that I feel this I choose to do something about it. I will not sit there until I am in full-blown panic. I feel a trigger and then I do something. I usually just get out of the situation. I have learned that I don't even care if hubby stays because I don't want to be triggered. It has nothing to do with him. I will not stay because I don't feel safe but also I will not have sex if I don't feel safe either.

Back to deescalation. He said that is a perfect example. You have to intervene early or it gets out of control. I will be a Deescalator (kind of like Terminator) from now on. No more defensiveness on my part. I have learned a powerful lesson from this. IT IS NOT WORTH IT!!! (but shutting down is not either...tough line)

The counselor said that he has found over the years women do more of the work and more of the suffering over these betrayal issues. Men do less of the work and less suffering. It is not fair but what is in life. If in the end we have a good marriage a miracle will have happened.

So now time to learn: 
I found this free ebook online. It seems like a good resource. link:

I also found this great article. These are really the things that our therapist has been teaching us. I can be found  at:
My comments
Things the author said that I felt were valid for me.

Communication and Conflict Resolution 

By Dr. Nathan Cobb
Communication problems are very common among couples seeking help for their relationship. Frequent arguments, fear of touching off a fight, heated exchanges, and avoidance of issues are all common complaints among couples I work with.
Communication problems can be confusing and discouraging but there is a way out of the fog. There are positive adjustments that couples can make in how they respond to each other that can make a big difference to their relationship.
(I am afraid of fights. I shut down for years and years. I just beginning to not live in a shut-down state anymore. The problem is that I don't know how to fight well. I do avoid issues. I avoid the subject of how hubby is doing with his addiciton. I don't want to be lied to so I just avoid it. Not that it is bad either. I just HATE fighting)

The Balance Theory of Marriage

According to research by Dr. John Gottman, one of the foremost experts on what makes marriage work, happy and healthy couples demonstrate an optimal ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.
In other words, when happy couples communicate, there are five times as many positive interactions between them (i.e. listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection, compliments, etc.) as there are negative (i.e. raising one’s voice, stating a complaint, or expressing one’s anger).
By contrast, among couples on the path toward divorce, this ratio is just under one to one. For every negative interaction there is less than one positive interaction.
One way to improve the quality of your communication is to increase the amount of positive behaviors in your relationship and to decrease the amount of negatives.
Reflect for a minute on what ratio characterizes your conflicts. Is there respect? Is there kindness? Do you genuinely listen to each other? Do you soften your tone with each other? Are your intentions helpful and positive?
It is hard for me read the words "each other" because sometimes I feel alone and I am doing the research and studying on how to be better. Not live in fear. Strive to grow spiritually. Live free from Triggers of trauma. I have to focus on me. I can be more positive, soft spoken, listen, kind, etc. This does not mean that I don't have to be heard. It just means I can learn a better way to be heard. I will try to think of positive things. I told the therapist that my heart is not in this marriage. i am here becasue it is convient becasue of the kids, work, and becasue ulimately I have to have a hope for something better. 

Divorce Predictors

Over the past twenty-plus years Dr. Gottman has conducted an exhaustive and thorough study of married couples, seeking to understand what distinguishes couples who divorce from couples who create strong and vibrant relationships. Much of Gottman's earlier work, summarized in his first book What Makes Marriage Succeed or Fail?, highlighted the relationship between marital stability and how couples handle conflict with each other.
His more recent work, summarized in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work integrates his later findings about the importance of friendship and fondness as the primary factors that predict the health of a marriage. In other words, how spouses are with each other when they are not fighting is a telling measure of how they are with each other when they do fight and of the long-term viability of their relationship.
For purposes of our discussion about conflict and communication, however, let me outline some of Dr. Gottman's predictors of divorce that have to do with how couples communicate with each other about difficult issues.

Harsh Start-Up

Imagine starting off a discussion with your spouse about an issue that upsets you. If you are feeling frustrated and resentful your first uttered words might be harsh, sarcastic or critical. For example, "The trouble with you is ...," or "Why do you always have to be so selfish?" or "My problem with you is that you never ...." Notice the accusing and hostile tone of these words. Imagine the body language associated with the tone. This is what is called a harsh startup, meaning how you "started" discussing the issue was severe, sharp or accusing.
According to Gottman, ninety-six percent of the time a harsh startup predicts how the argument will end—negatively and without resolution. Once an argument starts off in a negative direction, it very rarely "rights" itself. Harsh start-ups are strongly associated with divorce and relationship break-up.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse

These are four hostile forms of communication that put couples at high risk for divorce when these patterns take up permanent residence in the relationship.
  1. Criticism is defined as blaming, faultfinding, or using global and negative labels to attack your partner's character. For example, "How would you know? You're never home," or "My problem with you is ...." A harsh startup often comes in the form of criticism.

  2. Contempt is a lack of respect for your partner’s dignity, an attitude of looking down on your partner as unworthy. Forms of contempt include name-calling, put-downs, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing at each other, rolling of the eyes, mockery or hostile humor. Contempt is demeaning and conveys not just disapproval of your partner's behavior, but disgust with who your partner is. While the other three horsemen show up in small amounts in most marriages, contempt is only found in toxic relationships. This horseman also includes belligerance, which is an aggressive and angry provocation or threat.

  3. Defensiveness is a way of turning back a perceived attack. Someone who is defensive denies their partner’s statements, refuses to admit their role in problems, avoids responsibility for how they impact their partner, or deflects their partner’s complaints back onto the other person. Defensiveness is destructive because it escalates tension and creates an adversarial interaction.

  4. Stonewalling usually occurs as a result of escalating criticism, contempt and defensiveness as emotional overload becomes intense. Spouses who stonewall stubbornly refuse to give any verbal or nonverbal feedback that they are listening or attending to what their partner is saying. Often they just get up and leave the room. It's like talking to a stone wall. Stonewalling is best seen as a containment strategy that spouses use to avoid further escalation of the conflict. The problem is that the stonewaller does not just avoid the fight, but avoids his spouse and the relationship as well. According to John Gottman's research, 85% of stonewallers are men.


Normally, when you encounter a stressful and threatening situation, your body reacts in a way that helps you to deal with the danger. Your body temporarily shuts down non-essential systems, channels blood flow to your large muscles, creates extra fuel for energy, heightens your sensitivity to signs of danger and releases hormones that help you deal with stress.
Normally, this "fight-or-flight" response works well when we have to fight off an attacker, escape from a burning house, or perform a miraculous feat of strength. The problem is that it also impairs our ability to process information and to think clearly before we speak—exactly the abilities we need to have in order to work through difficult areas of disagreement with our spouse.
John Gottman has a vivid word for this physiological "fight-or-flight" reaction. He calls it "flooding." Flooding occurs when you and your spouse get into hostile arguments where the Four Horseman (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) are allowed free reign in your relationship.
Physical signs of flooding include rapid heart rate (above 100BPM), high blood pressure, sweating, and the overwhelming urge to leave or to say something hurtful. When we become flooded, we operate mainly from a self-preservation mindset. We seek mainly to protect ourselves from the turmoil of an escalating argument, either by becoming aggressive (verbally or physically) or by trying to get away.
In distressed marriages, we commonly find habitual harsh startups by the wife combined with frequent flooding and subsequent stonewalling by the husband. This common pattern leads to a vicious communication cycle where one partner repeatedly complains, nags, criticizes and blames her spouse, while the other person repeatedly avoids, withdraws, stonewalls, or dismisses his partner. The withdrawn spouse might initially respond by counterattacking or by being defensive but eventually he switches to withdrawal in order to avoid being overwhelmed.
It becomes a cycle because the more the husband withdraws and avoids his wife, the more frustrated and resentful she becomes. Eventually the resentment comes out as criticism and blame, which leaves her husband (his wife) feeling unappreciated and overwhelmed, and so he (she) avoids her (him) more, so her resentment continues to build, and on it goes. Sometimes the pattern is reversed and it is the wife who withdraws and the husband who pursues.
This vicious cycle is maintained by each spouse's reaction to the other person, and by their respective fear-based focus on self-preservation. It is important to note that their reactions, on a core level, are really attempted solutions to difficult situations; but each person's "solution" fuels the flames instead of extinguishing them.
So the example above is really switched with us or a mess of both messed up and twisted to become a combination of a bigger mess. Overall I have reached a fear level and I feel a need for self-preservation or safety as I like to call it. I need to feel safe. I usually withdraw but it is really more of an eternal shut down of the relationship after 20 years. How to ignite something that is dead with no flint nearby will take a miracle. 

Failed Repair Attempts

Repair attempts are efforts to de-escalate conflict and avoid flooding. Repair attempts are words, phrases, or responses intended to soften the conflict, to get things back on track, to start over, or to acknowledge or recognize the other person's view. For example, "I'm sorry," or "I see your point," or "Please don't raise your voice with me," or "Maybe we can compromise," or "That's not what I meant."
According to Gottman's research, couples in distressed marriages actually make more repair attempts than do happy couples. The problem is that these repair attempts repeatedly fail.
Distressed couples are often so ruled by negative intentions and the desire to protect themselves or to hurt the other person, that they either ignore or do not recognize each other's repair attempts. In happy marriages, spouses make fewer repair attempts, but that is because the ones they do make are received. They work.
When couples stop responding to each other's attempts to de-escalate the conflict, when they use the Four Horseman on a habitual basis, when they become frequently flooded, until one or both partners withdraw without resolution of the conflict, then the marriage will become a source of pain and torment rather than comfort and support. Where repair attempts are repeatedly failing, and the Four Horseman are habitually present, Gottman found that over 90% of couples will eventually divorce.
What determines whether repair attempts will succeed or fail? The strength of the marital friendship and how positively each partner feels about the other. This is why it is so important to focus on building friendship, positive sentiment and goodwill toward each other. Friendship, goodwill and fondness become the foundation for effectively using communication and conflict resolution skills.
When we were first married I would try these repair attempts. They usually failed. I eventually just withdrew to protect myself.  I stopped reading all marriage books and peace in the home, no contention became my only objective. So there was rarely resoultion. Even last night I made phonecalls and there was no resolution. When we went to bed he still felt the same- I was critical. I even asked what I said that was critical....he couldn't come up with anything. I don't recognize his repair attempts as genuine becasue I take very little as genuine from sad. We have little friendship and fondness. Sounds like a nice dream. 

Resolving Your Conflicts

If you have been married for some time and you recognize some of these signs in your own relationship, don't be discouraged. (20 years...yea I have been committed but a little discorage)As long as you are willing to make conscious efforts and you are committed to your relationship these negative patterns can be reversed.
If you are fairly new as a couple, start now to build mutual respect and goodwill into your relationship and learn how to protect your relationship from these corrosive behaviors ever taking hold in the first place.
Time and space don't permit a full discussion about how to turn things around, but let me offer a brief summary of principles that can stop or help prevent these negative communication behaviors from consuming your relationship. Some of these principles are inspired by Gottman's work mixed in with my own clinical experience.

  • When you raise an issue, approach your spouse softly, respectfully. Let your choice of words be guided by an attitude of friendship and respect. Remember that this is your life partner. Think about the things you love and respect about this person. If you habitually treated a friend of yours in a mean-spirited or aggressive way how long would that person stay your friend?

  • Let your partner influence you. Learn to open space for your spouse's ideas, feelings and perspectives to arise as real and valid. Try to be responsive to your partner's requests. Adopt the policy of never saying "no", outright, to your partner's needs. If you can't accomodate a request, then negotiate alternatives or other options.
  • I guess I could have delayed discussion until he could be calm about the subject. 
  • Act with positive intentions to create understanding, to show respect, and to find win-win solutions, instead of acting on your immediate, negative intentions and fears. Use your positive intentions to make and receive repair attempts.

  • Learn how to self-soothe and soothe your partner through appropriate time-outs and self-reflection. Sometimes this is a necessary step in order to re-align your intentions with positive goals and to calm down enough to think about what the real issues are for you.

  • Pinpoint the real issues that fuel the conflict. These are underlying needs, dreams and goals and sometimes the fears related to your needs, dreams and goals. Don't get sidetracked by arguing about details such as what your spouse said three months ago. If you are not sure what your spouse's underlying issue is, ask. Be curious. Not recognizing these underlying issues will often keep couples stuck in gridlock.

  • Learn the art of compromise. Adopt a mindset that each of you have dreams and interests that need to be honored. You can find creative win-win solutions if you stop allowing your fear to be your dominant motivator. I know what some people might be thinking: "I'm not afraid. I'm just mad." But if you really stop and think about it, fear is usually at the root of what keeps people from moving out of their polarized positions—fear of losing face, fear of losing self, fear of beng used, fear of getting hurt, etc. I know fear is my motivator especially regarding sex and money. 

  • Learn to accept your differences and not be threatened by them. A good deal of your conflicts may arise because of how you view your differences. Conflicts rooted in personality and life experiences are not likely to go away anytime soon. It is best to learn to accept each other and focus on positives and strengths than to be pre-occupied over annoying habits or dissimilar interests.

  • Make requests instead of demands. Requests are respectful and open the floor for discussion. Demands will usually just intensify a power struggle.

  • Begin to recognize the vicious cycle that you both co-create and take ownership of your part in that cycle. Change the cycle by interrupting it, that is, by not giving your usual response, or by stepping back and doing something different. Often this is the very opposite of what you feel like doing in the moment.
Well what I would have different. I would have felt that shock feeling with how he was talking to me and this would be my clue. This is a conversation that will escalate because it has one of The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.  I would say...hubby I know you want something done to the grill of the car but I have a birthday we need to put on in the house. Lets wait and talk about this when we are not so busy and stressed. So lets go inside and have a birthday party. All would have been well. We then can address issues at counseling sessions until we are ready for something on our own

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