The ABCs of Escalating Conflict and 7 Tips To Prevent Them

abcs of escalating conflict and prevent them

Conflicts in relationships are very common and nothing to be scared of. Every individual is different from each other, and even though you might share a lot of similarities with them, both of you will not be completely identical.

When in a relationship, there are certain things your partner will do that will annoy you and vice-versa. However, instead of losing your temper entirely, focus on the problem and think about the best way to resolving a conflict. Otherwise, your problems will take a turn for the worse and your relationship will get to the point where it will be irreparable.

Have you ever taken an escalator? You start at the bottom and without paying attention to what’s actually going on, you move up and up.

It’s the same thing when it comes to escalating conflict.

Related: 9 Conflict Patterns That Damage Relationships

Conflict Escalation in a couple happens when each partner communicates in a way that leads to harsher comments, more intense emotions, and the volume going upwards, figuratively and literally.

The higher a couple rides the escalator, the more likely they are to say hurtful things they later regret. (1) This can be seen in something like the jump from arguing about whose turn it was to take the trash out to verbally attacking each other’s character or even making threats about leaving the relationship.

Threats tend to result from compounding unresolved issues, disconnection, and the longing to have some sense of control in the chaos of insecurity. Sadly, threats make things worse, not better.

Sometimes these hurtful conflicts can appear to be about nothing.

For example:

Steve: [Frustrated tone] Why is there a shovel left on the deck?
Janet: Knowing your ADD, you probably left it there like you always do. [Criticism]
Steve: I always pick up. You’re the one who leaves things around. Look at the three pairs of shoes scattered across the living room. You’re the lazy one. [Defensiveness]
Janet: Stop acting like a child and keeping score. Grow up. [Contempt]
Steve: Okay, Mom. I think I’ve outgrown being a child in this home. [Mocking tone]
Janet: Then move out.
Steve: I will.

Was this couple really ready to separate over a shovel?

When we look at the heart rates of couples who escalate the conflict, we’ll see at least one partner’s heart rate, like an escalator, go higher and higher, to the point where they become emotionally flooded. Typically, the rate is over 100 beats per minute.

At this point, humor, the ability to hear each other’s perspective, and problem-solving were left on the ground level.

If you have had a relationship conflict in which you did say something hurtful and you want to repair the relationship, then follow the guide The Aftermath of a Regrettable Incident here.

“Do you want real intimacy? Real fulfillment? Or do you want an emotionally charged relationship that swings up and down, over and over?” ― Susan Clarke

The Warning Signs: The ABCs And Ds Of Conflict Escalation

The conflict escalates when partners attack each other using the ABCs – “accusation, blame, and coercion.” (2)

1. Accusation & Blame

The act of putting 100% of the responsibility for a problem on our partner and/or attacking our partner’s character as the cause of the problem.

When we do this, we allow our brain to engage in fault-finding and come to the conclusion that because of our partner’s moral issues, stupidity, or personal flaws, we are in this mess. Essentially, we are saying, “It’s 100% your fault we are in this and I have no responsibility. I’m innocent.”

Instead of a constructive conversation and a healthy resolution, we accuse our partners of being emotionally volatile or incompetent and blame them for the problem.


“We wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for your financial incompetence.”
“How could you be so stupid and leave the heater on full blast while no one is home. Our electric bill will cost us a fortune now.”
“The only reason our house is messy is that you’re a messy person.”

“Behind every happy couple lies two people who have fought hard to overcome all obstacles and interferences to be that way. Why? Because it’s what they wanted.” – Kim George

Related: There Are Two Views to Every Conflict and Both Are Valid

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