For the majority of us, the person we love most in the world, the one who can bring us joy, is also the person who can send us into a prolonged period of misery.
All it can take is a roll of the eyes and slight turning away or a careless remark.
There is no closeness without sensitivity. If our connection with this person is safe and robust, we can deal with these moments of sensitivity.
We may even use them to bring our partner closer, but when we don’t feel safe and connected, these moments are like a spark in a tinder forest. They set fire to the whole relationship.
Relationships get unhappy in three basic patterns when we cannot connect safely with our partners. These patterns are referred to by Dr. Susan Johnson as the Demon Dialogues.
Find the Bad Guy is a dead-end pattern of mutual blame that effectively keeps a couple miles apart, blocking re-engagement and the creation of a safe relationship haven.
Protest Polka is a demand-withdraw or criticize-defend pattern that shows up as a reaction to a protest against the loss of the sense of secure attachment that we all need in a relationship.
Freeze and Flee, or withdraw - withdraw pattern that usually happens after Protest Polka has been going for a while in their relationship. Both partners feel so hopeless that they begin to give up and put their own emotions and needs in the deep freeze, leaving only numbness and distance.
We all get caught in one or ALL of these negative interactions at some point in our love relationships.
For some, these are brief and for others, they become habitual responses. After a while, all it takes is a hint of negativity from a lover to set off a Demon Dialogue.
Eventually, the toxic patterns can become ingrained and permanent that they undermine the relationship, blocking all attempts to repair and reconnection.
We have only two ways of protecting ourselves and holding on to our connections with our partners when we don’t feel safe and respected.
One route is to avoid engagement, that is to try to numb our emotions, to shut down and deny our attachment needs. The other is to listen to our anxiety and fight for recognition and response.Tips to fix an unhappy relationship
What is your couple cycle? Identify which one you spend the most time in: Find the Bad Guy, The Protest Polka, or Freeze and Flee.
Decide what your Demon Dialogue is and give it a name, such as the “Storm”, “Downward Spiral”, “Flare up”, “Vortex”, etc. It’s not each other that you are battling against; it’s the negative cycle, so be sure to give it a name.
Explore how each of you acts in a way that pulls for an adverse reaction from the other partner? Please discuss with your partner where they learned the responses that they fall into in your relationship.
Play and practice the following exercise to cultivate a vulnerable conversation about your couple cycle:
The more I ___________, the more you ________ and then the more I ___________, and round and round we go.
When you ________, I don’t feel safely connected to you. I tend to __________.
I react this way to try to cope with difficult feelings and find a way to change our interaction. I do it in hope that ________. As this pattern keeps going, I feel ____________. What I say to myself about our relationship is ___________.
My understanding of our (Name of your Demon Dialogue) that makes it harder and harder for us to safely connect is that when I react in the way I describe above, you seem to then __________. The more I __________, the more you __________.
We are then both trapped in pain and isolation. Maybe we can warn each other when this (Name of your Demon Dialogue) begins. Seeing this cycle is our first step out of the circle of disconnection.
We hope that this little article helps you to fix your unhappy relationship.