For this post, I reference;Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Dr. Sue Johnson, 2008. Little, Brown & Co., New York.
Let’s be clear, all couples argue. Some couples have a long relationship and still argue and some couples don’t. Well, arguments and disagreements can have two effects. It can either be an opportunity to grow and look into your partner’s need and deepening the relationship. Or couples can get into patterns of argument that can be a source of distress. So what can we do about it?
Couples can start by stepping back from their arguments and recognise the distressful pattern of behaviour they themselves into. Then recognise how they contribute to that pattern. Understand, the pattern of behaviour happens because of unfulfilled attachment needs. And that what their partner is really asking for underneath is to reconnect. So recognising those bids and attuning to them will help slow down the argument and create space for safety and growth.
RECOGNISE THE COMMUNICATION PATTERN
Couples get caught up with the content of the argument. They get into a pattern of argument that is difficult to get out of. You can read more about the 3 Demon Dialogues couple find themselves in, here. The patterns or dance of distress are;
- Find the bad guy (Attack – Attack)
- The protest polka (Attack – Withdraw)
- Freeze and flee (Withdraw – Withdraw)
Recognising the pattern in your relationship is the first step to changing your dance of distress. See the overall pattern of the argument and steer away from the content of the argument.
If you look into the argument in more detail or focus on your partner’s dance steps in the argument, you will get caught up in the dance once again and keep that interaction locked in. So step back and look at the entire picture.
HOW DO YOU DANCE IN THE PATTERN?
Now put the spotlight on yourself and look at how you dance in the pattern. Then look at how your partner dances to your dance moves. Both partners need to see how each other’s steps pull the other into the dance. Unconsciously, both of you are pulling and reacting to each other’s dance moves and getting trapped in the pattern. Let’s see how that looks like.
Patti attacks Paul. Patti pulls Paul into the dance and he reacts by defending and justifying himself. Paul feels Patti’s attacks make it difficult for him to respond to Patti. Patti then shuts down and does not respond to Paul. Paul starts to feel disconnected and alone. Paul starts to respond by poking and pushing for connection. The dance of distress begins.
Know that this dance of distress cannot be stopped by problem-solving or new communication skills. To stop it we need to understand the pattern and the attachment distress. We need to understand the nature of the dance. Once we understand the nature of the dance, can we change the key elements of the dance, heal the connection and feel emotionally safe.
BIDS FOR CONNECTION
Partners need to recognise their loved ones bid for connection. And how desperate and devastated they will feel if those bids go unanswered. Thoughts that run through their minds go like this.
- “I will poke and push. What else can I do so that he will respond to me!”
- “I feel numb. If I don’t respond I hope to stop hearing how flawed I am in the relationship. I have lost her already.”
These are the thoughts that arise when couples are in their Demon Dialogues. When both partner’s needs are not met, both fear losing connection and the responses to those unmet needs are universal.
ATTUNEMENT TO THE DISTRESS
When we focus from content to moments of emotional disconnection, couples can ‘see’ what the Demon Dialogue does and they begin to see that the dance is the enemy, not their partner.
Once they see the dance as the enemy, they are able to become a team, slow down the music and step to the side. They can begin to create a safe space to talk about their emotions and attachment needs.
HOPE BEGINS TO GROW
The skill to learn is to recognise and accept our partner’s protest is fear of disconnection and loss of their relationship and move out of the dance of distress. This is crucial to a healthy relationship. Learning to repair moments of disconnection and break out of the destructive cycle is key to creating a loving bond.
Couples argument can be ‘fixed’ by recognising their pattern of behaviour in the argument, partner’s bids for connecting and attuning to it. It cannot be solved by learning new communication skills or problem-solving. When a partner can address the attachment needs, the other partner will feel heard, seen, connected and loved. At the end of the day that is what we all want. Connection and love.