When your marriage or love relationship is in a secure place, you’re able to pause and observe what is happening when you and your partner or spouse are getting stuck or starting to disconnect. You are able to regulate your emotions, and then reflect on what the conflict between the two of you means to you and to your partner or spouse. Once you understand the meaning, you can then focus on the response that you and your partner need, ask for that, and remain open to responding to what your partner or spouse needs.
How Do You Know When You're Headed for Potential Relationship Disaster?
If your marriage or love relationship is distressed, you most likely will have difficulty regulating your emotions, reflecting on the meaning for both of you, and knowing what response you both need to feel closer and understand each other better. When you’re out of sync with each other, you’ll likely get stuck acting and reacting in typical negative patterns of the “Demon Dialogues” described in Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson. How you fight most likely fit into one of three fight patterns:
- Attack/Defend: this is a tit-for-tat patterns, where one partner gets angry or agitated and attacks, and the other partner defends himself or herself. The more one partner attacks, the more the other partner defends, which usually just escalates further attack, followed by more defensiveness. This is the most common pattern in a distressed marriage or love relationship. Instead of the deeper emotions of anxiety, sadness, or shame being described, anger and withdraw patterns take over the couple.
- Attack/Attack: both of you are on a battlefield, making the other partner the enemy. Anger is the emotion most present, while deeper emotions of sadness, anxiety, or shame stay under the surface, hidden behind the “protection” anger provides. You feel “on edge,” tense, and ready to go on the attack at any moment.
- Withdraw/Withdraw: you and your partner likely were stuck in one of the two above patterns of attack/defend or attack/attack, and over time, both of you started to “give up” the fight and shifted into withdraw/withdraw. This pattern may also be present if both of you grew up in families where open, expressed conflict was avoided at all costs. As the withdraw/withdraw pattern continues, resentment and sadness most likely grow, and feelings of loneliness can damper your relationship. If you’ve shifted into a withdraw/withdraw pattern from another, this is the most dangerous pattern in a relationship because this pattern can shift from withdraw/withdraw to checked-out/checked-out, when a relationship is not salvageable.
Do you see your pattern in one of the three cycles described above? If so, there's a lot you and your partner or spouse can do to change it. Listen to one of our upcoming webinars, or give us a call to talk to us about more ways to address your own challenges in your marriage or love relationship. You can also read more in Sue Johnson's Hold Me Tight, based on Emotionally Focused Therapy, a top-rated couple therapy model with empirical evidence that helps more than 70% of couples improve their marriage or love relationship.
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