Managing Escalation

What words do you think of when you hear the word escalation?

I go first to anger because anger is the fuel of escalation. What you are doing or saying is making me mad and you’re going to hear about it.

I then go to the word destructive because escalation destroys the conflict resolution process. It blows up the communication bridge as bad words are released in angry tones.

Then comes the word avoidance. This is because escalation and its angry fruit avoid real intimacy and disclosure. If I can sabotage the process with my pride and anger, then I don’t have to expose my fearful, insecure, vulnerable heart to you.

We could stop now, but I’m just getting started, and it’s getting good.

Immature lovers escalate and are blocked from intimacy and shared growth. As they grow, more mature lovers learn how to fight fair, and navigate the land mines that produce escalation. They learn to identify the hot buttons that arm escalation and walk in the love and understanding that disarm them. This is the way.

Why Anger is a Poor Manager

You’ve probably heard the saying,

“Anger is a poor manager.”

This is because anger doesn’t manage anything at all. Instead, it gets out of control and creates destructive dynamics that short-circuit constructive communication. We will always want to withdraw from anger and it will create distance. We won’t want to give the angry person what they want because of the hostile attitude.

Anger accuses and uses words that are hurtful and abusive. Anger takes no responsibility for itself as it lashes out. Notice the body language in the picture above; They are in aggressive postures and both point fingers at the other. Neither is listening to the other. She looks like she is winning. He’s fighting for his life. 🙂

Either way, with this communication style employed, they will be sleeping with backs turned toward each other if they even make it into the same bed. There is a better way.

Talk About Where You Are

I was on a job today and a person asked me,

“What do you do when you’ve blown the bridge of communication up with your words?”

I said,

“You rebuild them with your words, life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

If we’ve blown out the bridge with our words, we need to rebuild it with life-giving words. We need humble words, perhaps repentant and confessing ones.

I’m sorry for those hurtful things I said, will you forgive me?

“I was being selfish, and self-centered, I don’t want that, I want to grow in love.”

“I see where I have been careless and have neglected your heart, I want to change that.”

“What can we do in our marriage to be more available to each other? It feels like something is always going on or in the way of our connecting meaningfully.”

Another question is,

What if the other person won’t talk and engage in the process?

You need to use invitational styles of communication.

Can we set a time to talk together about our relationship?

“I value our marriage, and I’m concerned about us. Will you talk with me about where we are and what we can do?”

Explore to find the reason for distance in the marriage and determine to remove it. Refuse to let the hecticness of life squash all romantic feelings from the relationship.

Words Can Hurt

We remember the old saying,

“Sticks and stone can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

It just isn’t true. We know that words can slice and dice. We all have been hurt by them. In marriage, we learn just how to use them to hurt most the one we love.

Careless or reckless words can tear a marriage to shreds.

“I felt really hurt by what you said, and don’t feel like I can trust you anymore.”

You really hurt me, and don’t seem to care about it at all. . . and you expect me to be intimate with you?

We must choose to stop tearing down and use our words to heal, love, and encourage. Use tender caring words.

“How are you feeling today?”

“What was your day like today? Did you face any struggles? I want into your world.”

I’m reminded that every time I have encountered a hurting relationship, communication problems or difficulties are always present. The couple is dismantling their union instead of building it up and strengthening it. This is why there is distance. Over and over I hear,

“Our biggest problem is communication.”

Anger doesn’t listen.

So then my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. James 1:19

Have you noticed in escalation, that neither of you is listening to what the other is saying?

Until we can learn to lay down our swords and listen to and honor what each is saying, we will stay in the merry-go-round of escalation.

Using Structure to Corral Emotions

We need structure to “call us out” on our emotional lack of control. We need accountability in our marriages to deal with our anger and emotional immaturity.

Anger is a God-given emotion, but it becomes sinful when we don’t harness it.

For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:20

Be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath. Ephesians 4:26

We all know what anger does to our hearts, it hardens it and takes softness and tenderness away. We don’t care what the other person is feeling, we just simmer in our anger. We know that anger will punish, and seek revenge. We’ve seen and heard the domestic violence stories.

So, we escalate, what can we do?

  • Determine that you’re going to change how you do conflict and refuse to be victims of escalation.
  • If things heat up, agree that you will take a time out to cool down before things blow up.
  • Set a time to revisit the conflict if you do call a time out. Don’t sweep it under the rug or avoid it. It’s important.
  • Observe your tone of voice and body language. Remember much of conversation is non-verbal.
  • Set down in chairs and face each other. Verbalize your comittment to each other to fight fair.
  • Refuse to use bullying. Call each other out on it if you observe it.
  • Use your power respectfully, and in an honoring way.
  • Ask questions instead of accusing, or assuming you know what your partner is thinking or feeling. “what are you feeling? How do you feel about what I just said? You seem detached, are you with me?”
  • Use the speaker-listener tool to make sure you are hearing and understanding what each other are saying.
  • Do all things in love. Speak the truth in love. Forgive and grow together. XO

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