Dr. Carl Alasko: Column

Carl Alasko, Ph.D. MFT



November 6, 2013

When All Else Fails

Dear Dr. Alasko:, I'm in a long-term relationship that is mostly satisfying, but my spouse flies into a rage whenever we get into a discussion he doesn't like. All my efforts to get him to change have been fruitless. Is there a "last ditch" method or strategy I can use?

Dear Reader: One of the most constant questions is what to do when all else fails. When all your attempts at solving a pressing issue are met with defiance or passivity, what else can you do?

There is an intervention you can do before taking the draconian step of separation: It's call Stopping the Relationship. Which means to stop all physical, verbal and emotional contact.

The goal of this last-ditch effort is to create a visceral, lived experience of separation -- and the validity of your demands -- without actually initiating divorce.

To be successful your goal and strategy must be well thought out. Otherwise your move will be seen as just another (ineffectual) attempt at manipulation or control.

First, define your goal. In your case it's getting your spouse to stop raging when an ordinary discussion turns stressful. Your goal is to have him learn that he either chooses to modify his behavior or the relationship ends. It's an "either/or" choice.

The first step is a brief announcement, which might be: "I really want to stay married to you. I really want our relationship to work. But your addiction to rage must change.I need to be able to discuss our issues without the fear that you'll explode."


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"Until you commit to that change, I am disconnecting emotionally and physically from you. When you're ready to talk, let me know."

Notice that your demand is not a criticism. It's a clear declaration of what you need to stay with him- and includes a solution.

The next step is to disconnect verbally and physically, not even engaging in eye contact. Every few days, remind your husband that you're always ready to discuss your request. If he tries to provoke an argument, leave the room. If the situation escalates it might be necessary to stay for a few nights with a relative.

It's essential to always stay focused on your eventual goal, which is rebuilding your marriage on a more equitable basis.

What's the difference between stopping the relationship and the typical cold freeze? The most important difference is the clarity of your intention - as well as your setting clear rules prior to stopping. You're not reacting to an offense without pouting. You're not trying to get even.

You ARE demanding his attention in the service of your relationship. You are telling him you're serious. In fact, you're giving your husband a choice: he must accept responsibility for his behaviors and change them.

Carl Alasko, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is the author of Emotional BS and Beyond Blame. Contact him at dralasko@gmail.com

Copyright 2008 and beyond Carl Alasko, PhD