Couples in trouble often question if maybe they made the wrong decision in committing to their partner. They wonder if they were never really compatible or whether they will ever be able to have the same style of communication.
More likely than not, these couples find themselves at the mercy of destructive patterns in their relationships that spin out of control and pull them apart. In reality, the problem isn’t the other, but this terrible cycle that has taken over their relationship.
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One way that Emotionally Focused Therapy helps couples is by helping them identify these destructive negative cycles. Even though these cycles can have a life of their own and be very difficult to get a grip on, the good news is that there are only a handful of such cycle “types.” Perhaps you’ll find it reassuring that countless couples get caught in these patterns – you aren’t the only ones.
In her book, Hold Me Tight, which I strongly recommend, Sue Johnson titles these patterns as “find the bad guy,” “the protest polka,” and “freeze and flee.”
Perhaps you and your partner get into one of these patterns with each other?
Let’s take a look at each of them.
Find the bad guy
This is a common pattern early on in relationships. The name says it all: you and your partner are basically pointing fingers at each other (and going nowhere, while you’re at it). A common response to feeling badly or upset is to lash out, and this is what you’re doing with each other. So, if you and your partner do a lot of name-calling and yell back and forth at each other, then this is your pattern. You’re both engaged in the argument and likely are saying hurtful things to each other.
The problem with patterns is that over time they start to define our relationships. Of course it’s okay to yell at each other occasionally and maybe even throw in a hurtful thing or two, but when the constant yelling becomes a defining feature of your relationship, you’re starting to get in trouble.
At this point, it would be a good idea to sit down with your partner and discuss your concerns about the constant arguing. Your partner probably hates the yelling too. Try to identify what happens for each of you just before you lash out – perhaps you are feeling hurt or upset. Regardless of what you’re feeling, it’s important for you both to slow down and take a time out before you yell at the other person. If you can, try to identify the first emotion that comes up before you yell. This is likely a “softer” feeling, perhaps sadness or hurt, and will be less likely to be so hostile to your partner if you are honest with yourself about it, although it can be really hard to know what’s really going on.
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Unless you can easily repair such fights, your hurtful attacks on each other aren’t doing you any good. Try another way before “find the bad guy” dissolves into a trickier pattern that might be harder to overcome.
The Protest Polka