Do you and your partner get into fights that keep repeating over and over again?
Maybe the issues change (like whether its about the kids, your sex life, or spending $) but you make the same accusations, cross your arms or point fingers the same way, and they all lead to hurt feelings, silent treatments, or one of you sleeping on the couch?
We’re going to identify recurring conflict and unravel it, so that you can end the pattern and stop it from repeating again.
Dr. Susan Johnson in her book Hold Me Tight identifies 3 common patterns of fighting that couples get caught in, that she calls the “Demon Dialogues.”
She looks at these patterns as “dances” because one partner’s moves trigger the other partner’s moves, and the cycle takes both people over, like a dance.
Dr. Johnson says these demon dialogues begin when we reach out to connect with our partner, and they’re not emotionally responsive. Our attachment system (the part of our brain that monitors the level of connection between us and our loved ones) gets triggered and we are wired to “protest” the disconnection. I’ll talk more about this in the next email 🙂
The Demon Dialogues
Paraphrased from Hold Me Tight By Susan Johnson
Find The Bad Guy (attack/attack)
In this dance, we attack, accuse, and blame each other, to try to “win” the argument. Both partners are trying to prove the other one wrong.
Emotionally, both people are protecting themselves from feeling hurt by the disconnection, by finding fault in the other person.
The Protest Polka (demand/withdraw)
This is the “dance” we’ve been talking about in the last 2 emails, because it’s the most common one. Each partner’s move calls forth and reinforces the other’s.
One partner “protests” the disconnection in an angry or critical way, and the other partner withdraws to avoid feeling criticized; wash, rinse, repeat.
This dance can go on for a long time because the emotions and needs behind the dance are very powerful. In love relationships, we’re wired to want to get a response, ANY RESPONSE, from our partner.
When we get no emotional response from a loved one, we are wired to protest the way a small child cries out when left alone.
What the angry partner really wants is a response that connects and reassures. The dance is more subtle than “Find The Bad Guy, so couples often don’t recognize it, complaining of a fuzzy “communication problem” or “constant tension.”
Freeze And Flee (withdraw/withdraw)
If we think of a relationship as a dance, then here both partners are sitting out. Each is in self-protection mode, trying to act as if he or she does not feel and does not need, acting emotionally numb.
The Freeze and Flee dance frequently evolves from the Protest Polka. This is what happens when the pursuing, critical partner gives up trying to get the other spouse’s attention, feeling helpless and hopeless.
If this cycle runs its course, the critical partner will grieve the relationship and then will detach and leave.
How to Break the Cycle
Which one of the above “dances” do you and your partner get caught in most often?
My boyfriend and I, as well as most of the couples I work with, were stuck in the Protest Polka.
Here’s how we stepped out of it.
1) Identify what moves YOU make that trigger your partner’s moves.Do you raise your voice? Do you criticize or blame? Or do you tune your partner out?
2) Notice how that contributes to your partner’s moves. What causes them to get defensive or withdraw? How does that create a cycle that you both get caught in?
3) Name your dance. One couple called it the “hurricane.” My boyfriend and I call ours the “black hole” because it pulls both of us in.
When you name the dance you can step outside of it, stand together as a team to fight the dance as the enemy, instead of fighting each other.
4) Tune into the vulnerable emotions, such as sadness, shame, or fear, underneath the anger. And Identify the deeper emotional needs that you and your partner have.
Your emotional needs may be something like, “I really need to feel connected / loved / appreciated / valued / desired, etc. by you. And articulate what, specifically, that looks like for you.
With empathy and compassion, give each other comfort and reassurance that you matter to each other and want to meet each other’s emotional needs.
5) THEN once you’re connected, you can work through the details of the argument and create a plan for meeting each other’s needs.
Maybe you and your partner can do this on your own, and it’s helpful to have someone to guide you through the process.
If you’re caught in one of these dances, let me help you change the music, so you can spin and twirl back into love and connection!
In an hour, I can help you identify what pattern you’re caught in, and create a plan for how to step out of it.
Here’s the link to set up a free strategy session with me.
Free “Back To Love” Strategy Session