For this post I reference;Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Dr. Sue Johnson, 2008. Little, Brown & Co., New York.
Couples usually say they are fighting about the Finances, Children or sex. Some couples also say that their communication has broken down or they cannot communicate well. Other couples point the finger of blame at their partner and that he/she needs to change her ways before they can find a solution. What’s happening to the couples is just the tip of the iceberg. What is below the iceberg is both partners feel emotionally disconnected. Couples get into conversations trying to reconnect but they end up in a ‘Demon Dialogue’.
‘Demon Dialogue’ was coined by Dr Sue Johnshon. Her research in couples recognised three destructive cycles of conflict that many couples experience.
FIND THE BAD GUY
This is attack-attack conversation couples have that has no end to it. They rattle off accusations at each other while standing at their separate corners pre-empting the next blow. Marie says “I’ll put my guard down if he puts his down. But just in case I have something behind my back if he starts accusing me again.” The argument can escalate but this pattern is difficult to maintain for an extended period. Often this scenario is the prelude to the next pattern.
THE PROTEST POLKA
This is the attack-withdraw pattern. In this pattern, one partner will pursue by making demands or criticise or just to make a point. While the other partner often finds themselves trying to defend him or herself. The partner soon gets overwhelmed and begin to shut down and withdraw. When one partner starts to shut down, it has a devastating effect on the other partner. They feel unheard, unseen and they react by protesting even more, (more demands, criticism or making a point) and escalating the fight. Causing the other partner to further withdraw.
Marie admits that she will start the conversation and she gets worked up when he doesn’t respond to him. “I will ask him more questions hoping for an answer but… or at least acknowledge my feelings. But I won’t get a response from him”. Mathew steps in and says “The more I hear her questions and anger the more I think, I am not good enough for her. I am not able to please her. She is much better off without me.”
In their own way, both partners are protesting for the loss of emotional connection. They both feel the answer to the question ‘Are you there for me?’ is going to be met with abandonment and loss of their relationship.
FREEZE AND FLEE
If the Protest Polka or the attach-withdraw pattern has been going on for a long time, both partners may begin to feel hopeless and give up. The third pattern of withdraw-withdraw starts to emerge. This is where both partners step back to escape from the hurt, devastation and despair. No one is reaching out and no one is taking risks. They are barely connecting at all.
Is there hope for us?
The answer is yes, there sure is. Do you recognise any of these patterns in your relationship? If you do, that’s the first step in changing the pattern. When you can recognise the pattern and separate it from the content and see the big picture, we can start to change the negative pattern into positive patterns that create connection and emotional safety. The best thing is it’s learnable.
When couples feel emotionally disconnected, the content of the discussion or thing, will trigger the argument. Couples will enter the ‘Demon Dialogue’ They will either,
- Find the bad guy (Attack – Attack)
- The protest polka (Attack – Withdraw)
- Freeze and flee (Withdraw – Withdraw)
There is hope to correct pattern of distress and couples can repair their relationship and feel connected again.