Chapter 11:  De-Escalating Relationships


De-escalate – reducing the level of intimacy or commitment in a relationship because of shortcomings or incompatibility.


Managing a relationship breakup is an important skill to have.


Couples are more likely to stay together when they:

       - are in equitable relationships

       - are committed

       - have many similarities and interests

       - find the relationship rewarding

       - develop a sense of we-ness or bonding

       - develop a life together as a couple

       - facilitate growth toward the “ideal self”

       - have important person approval

       - utilize effective (active) listening


Table 11.1 Factors Contributing to the Ending of a Relationship p.317


Relationship Deterioration

Relationship deterioration refers to the weakening of bonds that hold people together.  The process may be gradual or sudden.  Keep in mind, just because you may enter a stage of deterioration does not mean the relationship is inevitably going to end.  You can turn the ship around at any point with relationship repair.



Stages of Coming Apart:


Differentiating“Love me as I am.  Because I’m not going to change.”  Intrapsychic phase – a person reflects on the quality of the relationship; comparing the relationship to others, and comparing relationship partners to potential partners.  This stage becomes the catalyst for further deterioration if one or both partners continue to take a stand and make change impossible; altering their behavior inconceivable.  Often one or both partners have the unrealistic idea that relationships should not be work.  They should just happen.


Purpose – reestablish self within the relationship; demand to be recognized; often occurs at first sign of major stress.


Communication – focus on differences; conflict becomes more frequent and less constructive.



       Circumscribing“Let’s force this relationship.”

Purpose – first stage of relationship decline; strained relationship.


Communication – decrease in the quality and quantity; decrease in commitment talk; public face-saving (pretending that nothing is wrong.)




Stagnating“Our relationship isn’t going anywhere.”

Purpose – remain motionless; avoid the pain of breaking up.


Communication – covert, hidden dialogue; passive aggressive behaviors arise, decrease in talking about the relationship (meta-relationship talk.)


       Avoiding“Let’s cool it for a while.”

Purpose – physical or psychological separation; reduced interest and energy toward relationship


Communication – little or no communication, ignoring or blunt talk, antagonism or unfriendliness.


Terminating aka dissolution“We’re history.  Goodbye.”  This is the equivalent of a divorce.  Grave-dressing phase – the relationship is ‘dead’; each participant is likely to ‘dress up’ the grave by promoting a positive image of his or her role in the relationship.


Purpose – dissociation from other; justification in decision to part ways


Communication  - “We” changes to “I” – plural changes to singular (inclusive to exclusive – “you”, “me” not “us”, “we”; total emphasis on self and differences; decreased access.

Ideal approach – signal supportiveness for other; create rules for access.


Common Reasons for Relational Break-ups:  women are more likely to initiate break-up, observe problems, and express needs to end the relationship.

1.                          breakdowns in communication

2.                          incompatible interests and goals

3.                          sexual incompatibility (men see sex as the path to intimacy; women see intimacy as the path to sex.)

4.                          infidelity

5.                          boredom with relationship

6.                          money

7.                          conflicts about children

8.                          alcohol or drug abuse

9.                          women’s equality issues

10.                    in-laws



Relationship Repair

Relationship repair is optional.  Relationship repair often involves commitment and work by both parties involved and hence is often ignored.


Phases of relationship repair:


1.  Identify the problem - analyze what went wrong and consider ways of solving your relationship difficulties.


2.  Empathize.  It is crucial for you to try to see the problem from your partner’s point of view.

3.  Utilize active listening skills.


4.  Use “I” language.  Own your feelings and thoughts; use “I” statements; engage in active listening behaviors; use affirmation behaviors.


5.  Discuss possible solutions that enable both of you to win.


6.  Negotiate a new agreement and new acceptable behaviors until there is consensus.


7.  Integrate solutions into behavior.  Follow through on the agreement; make necessary changes in behavior.


8.  Increase quality time together.


Dealing with a Breakup:

Break the loneliness-depression cycle – loneliness and depression are the two most common feelings experienced after a breakup.  Try to understand that these feelings are temporary and will pass.  But make sure you grieve the relationship and psychologically put it to rest.


Take time out – resist temptations to jump into a new relationship right away.  Take time out for yourself; get to know yourself again.


Bolster self-esteem – when relationships fail, self-esteem often declines.  Engage in activities that help your self-esteem. i.e. sports, music, drama, club


Remove or avoid relationship memorabilia – these things just make you re-live the past.  If you are to move forward, you need to let it go.  First achieve emotional distance, then, you can remember again.


Seek support – try not to seek advice unless it is from a professional.  Support, you can receive from any trusted confidant.



See p. 328 Table 11.3 Reasons Cited For Relational Disengagement



See p. 330 Table 11.4 Disengagement Themes



See p.334 Table 11.5 Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships



See p. 335 Table 11.6 Examples of How a Partner Tries To Gain Power and Control in a Dating Relationship



See p. 346 Coping With a Breakup – Common Reactions




See p. 350 Figure 11.3 Adjustment Stages:


-        Trauma – the break up itself; shock; numbness; overwhelmed


- Outcry – panic; despair; hopelessness; exhaustion


-        Denial – avoids others; cuts off from others to be alone


- Intrusion – flooded states in which the person cannot think about anything but the relationship


-        Working Through


       - Completion


       - Identity Change