The Kingston Integrative Healing Group: Helps Couples and Individuals

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Article based on a study at The Denver, Colorado Lab of Dr. Howard Markman

1. Escalation
Escalation is a process of one-up-manship. Each retort in a fight ups the ante so that the conditions get worse with each round. Couples in successful relationships are able to nip escalation in the bud. Couples whose relationship is on tenuous ground are not. The difficulty with escalation is that in the course of hurling verbal weapons at each other, couples will often damage their relationship in a way that makes recovery difficult. If a fight escalates too far, couples really can get out of control in the nasty department and this is dangerous. Markman and his team indicate that the tactics used by escalating couples are equal to marital terrorism.

Escalation can be very subtle. Escalated fights are not necessarily loud but they are destructive. Over the course of a marriage, escalated fights are hard to recover from. Who really wants to be in a marriage where people hurt each other with verbal jabs? Couples need to learn to recognize when they are escalating, and make moves to short-circuit and de-escalate the fight.

2. Invalidation
Invalidation is a pattern of put-downs, either subtle or direct in nature. Invalidation is caustic in a relationship because of the belligerence and contempt that are reflected. Invalidation is an attack on the character of one's partner, and it is never healthy. A subtle form of invalidation is holding back on due and expected praise. It can be made worse by injecting criticism where praise is due. Quite simply, invalidation hurts. The Denver team has shown through their work that invalidation is one of the strongest predictors of divorce.

3. Withdrawal and avoidance
These are two different ways in which people seek to ignore or get out of important discussions. Withdrawal can be physical (leaving the room) or less obvious (getting quiet or shutting down.) Avoidance has the same goal, but the emphasis is on preventing the discussion from ever happening in the first place.

Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg note that the common pattern of one person pursuing in a relationship, while the other withdraws is very destructive. Again, an imbedded pattern of withdrawal or avoidance is one of the most powerful predictors of divorce. Couples need to find ways for pursuers to back off and for withdrawers to engage, in a way that works for both parties.

4. Negative interpretations
A negative interpretation is when one person (or both) consistently holds to the belief that the motives of their partner are more negative than is truly the case. These are inaccurate interpretations in a negative direction. Such interpretation, when ingrained, can become so powerful that it becomes impossible to penetrate. Obviously such negativity can grow with other negative aspects of a relationship. Rarely will one of these patterns exist without some of the others.

Battling negative interpretations does not just mean engaging in positive thinking, but it is a matter of choice. We can choose to view things openly, or at least in the light they are intended, or we can choose to interpret in a way that will destroy the relationship.