by: Del Fehsenfeld
- Escalator or Avoider?
Albert Einstein was known to repeat that famous definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. But his insight doesn’t take a genius—anyone who has ever been married already knows the insanity that a downward spiral of marital conflict can become. And similar cycles can be experienced in friendships, parenting, work groups, and just about every other human interaction. A crazy cycle can begin!
Zeroing in on marriage, I’d like to suggest that nearly every person falls into one of two tendencies in dealing with marital conflict.
- Escalators: Some of us are escalators. We pursue under stress, and our responses are outward. We want to help our marriage by talking things through as soon as possible. When upset, we can get hot under the collar and blow steam.
- Avoiders: Conversely, others of us are avoiders. We withdraw under stress, and our responses go inward. We would rather help our marriage by waiting for things to cool down or blow over. When upset, we can freeze our partner with emotional and physical distance.
Often there is one of each conflict style in a marriage. And the harder the escalator pursues, the faster the avoider runs. One spouse literally feels like they are chasing the other from room to room!
It would be funny . . . except it’s not. In fact, ineffective patterns of conflict resolution are frustrating and destructive. Being trapped long enough in a crazy cycle of conflict can lead to feelings of futility and even despair.
The irony is that both escalators and avoiders care about the relationship. The escalators want to “stay connected,” and the avoiders want to “stop fighting.” However, since they misinterpret each other’s motivation (and because they are angry!), this crazy cycle is easy to start and hard to escape.
Look for Part II of this series to find out what next steps to take to end the crazy cycle.