Archive | April 2012

When Communication Dies, the Relationship Dies

Lack of communication is one of the leading causes of divorce. Regardless of the nature of a couple’s problems, if they can continue talking about the problems they have a better chance of getting through the difficulties and even improving their relationship. However, if one or both partners are reluctant to find a way to resolve their problems, their chances of divorcing are greater.

What often happens is that one partner tries to bring up a sensitive issue for discussion, and the other clams up. This creates anxiety in the first partner, who then continues to get the other to “open up.” If the other remains unresponsive, the first partner makes further attempts to connect. This results in a pursuer/distancer pattern, in which one partner is trying to make the relationship work, but the other is moving further and further away, remaining unresponsive and stonewalling any attempts to address issues. While the silent partner may seem to be the controlling partner, underneath his or her stonewalling tactics there may be a good amount of fear — fear of what might happen if the issues were allowed to come to the surface through discussion. The stonewalling helps to keep issues buried and vulnerable feelings unspoken.

The couple grows further apart. Soon they begin to isolate themselves from couples they previously socialized with, and may develop their own separate social outlets. They stop kissing and showing other signs of affection, and may go for months without having sex. Each lives in his/her own separate world of hurt, frustration, hopelessness and loneliness.

And all of this happens because they never sat down and talked.



A scapegoat is someone who is blamed for things they were not fully responsible for. It’s a role that people take on when their partners or family members deny their own contributions to problems. They blame the problems on the scapegoat.

Scapegoats are made to feel guilty for whatever is wrong in a relationship or family. In one way or another, they are told that, if it weren’t for their faults or “craziness,” the relationship or family would be just fine. If scapegoats try to stand up for themselves and express how they feel, they are attacked, judged and discounted. After a while, scapegoats begin to believe that they always disappoint, and can never be the partner or family member that others want them to be. Therefore, they conclude that they must, in fact, be the cause of all problems.

If you find yourself being scapegoated by any person or group, you can step out of the role by not colluding with the messages the person or group is giving you. People who scapegoat try their hardest to keep the scapegoat in that role. Otherwise, they themselves would need to start accepting responsibility for their part in problems! It may be futile to argue with those who continue to blame you for everything. While you cannot control what others think or say, you can control how you think about a situation and what you are willing to believe about yourself. At least in your own mind acknowledge the contribution that you made to a problem, and refuse to accept the portion that is not yours.

Your Body Language Can Speak Volumes

A disagreement can be viewed as either a “rupture and repair” or as a “cut off.” Ruptures can be repaired; cut offs are not so easily fixed, if they can be at all. One element that distinguishes “rupture and repair” from “cut off” is body language. Body language that is disrespectful and does not acknowledge the worthiness of the other person (i.e., cuts the other person off) is destructive to communication and, therefore, to the relationship. Following are examples of body language associated with “cut off”:

  • Folding your arms in front of you, presenting a closed body posture
  • Withdrawing physically
  • Making little or no eye contact; staring at the floor or the wall and barely looking at the other person
  • Glaring at the other person while he/she is speaking, indicating disapproval of what he/she is saying
  • When pressed, stating, “I’m being quiet because I feel quiet” as an excuse to explain away withdrawal.

When you disagree with another person, you may feel threatened by the thought of acknowledging what he/she thinks or feels, because it may seem to you as though you’re agreeing with or condoning their position. Acknowledgement is not agreement. It is simply a respectful way of communicating. Before you can hope to reach resolution, it’s important for both of you to express yourselves.

The next time you’re in conflict with another person, watch your body language and avoid cut off. Instead, listen to the other person and accept his/her thoughts and feelings without judgment. If you do so, they are more likely to listen and accept yours. You’ll be on your way to repairing the rupture.

The Escalation of Anger, Part 1

Fights can easily escalate into physical abuse when a person’s anger gets out of control. That physical abuse can take a number of forms, including punching or hitting, pushing or pulling, pinching, biting, and so on. One factor contributing to the escalation of anger is what I call “getting caught in the loop.” Here’s how it works:

Person 1 does or says something that puts himself in a one-up position and Person 2 in a one-down position. It’s uncomfortable for Person 2 to feel one-down, and he’s going to do whatever he can to feel better. So, Person 2 is going to do or say something that puts himself one-up. This automatically causes Person 1 to slide into the one-down position. Person 1 doesn’t like being one-down, and says or does something to regain his one-up position causing Person 2 to slide into a one-down position again. And so on, and so on, and so on…. These two people are “in the loop.” If you recognize that you’re in a loop with someone, you can step out of the loop by refusing to engage in the “one-up/one-down” dynamic. By doing this, you step out of the loop, and the loop collapses, because one person can’t be in the loop by themselves. Once you’re out of the loop, you can try to communicate about the issue at hand in a more productive way. If neither of you steps out of the loop, the situation is likely to escalate, and you may be headed for a physical encounter. Here’s an illustration of the loop. It’s no accident that it resembles an infinity sign, because it can go on and on for what seems like an infinity!

Following are common ways that people get into the loop with each other:

  • Using put downs
  • Raising one’s voice and using dismissive hand gestures
  • Arguing facts
  • Responding impatiently, causing the other person to feel offended by tone of voice
  • Blaming

The best way to get out of the loop is to take a time-out as soon as you recognize you’re in the loop. Calmly tell the other person that you can see that things are starting to escalate, and you don’t want to say or do things that you might regret, so you’re taking a time-out. Let him or her know when you will be back to resume your conversation. (This is very important. Do not leave the other person feeling abandoned and wondering when or if you’re going to return!) Leave quietly. Do not stomp out and slam the door behind you. Remember, you are trying to preserve the relationship/friendship. Return when you said you would. (If you don’t, this tool will lose its credibility, and will not be effective the next time you try to use it.)

When you do resume discussing the issue, use “I feel” statements rather than attacking with “you” statements. For example, say “I feel hurt when you turn on the TV when I’m trying to talk with you” rather than “You never listen to me when I’m trying to talk with you.” Say “I feel disrespected when you talk over me” rather than “You always interrupt me when I’m talking.”

It’s always wise to take whatever steps you can to de-escalate a situation. Your relationships with significant others, friends and family members will benefit if you put wise steps into practice.