Over the next few weeks, we will be reading the book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. Want to go back to the beginning of the series? Just click here.
Today, we’re going to dive into the first conversation Dr. Sue Johnson discusses in Hold Me Tight. She called this section Recognizing the Demon Dialogues. Demon Dialogues is her term for a few common patterns of unhealthy relationships. She identifies three: Find the Bad Guy, the Protest Polka and Freeze and Flee.
Before going into the details of each dialogue, Dr. Johnson takes the time to discuss why it’s important to have an understanding of what these dialogues look like – it’s because once you can step back and see the pattern you and your partner are falling into, it’s much easier to break out of it and reorient your behavior to be more productive. “Focusing on the game, rather than the ball,” as she puts it.
Do any of these dialogues sound like something you’ve experienced in your relationship?
Find the Bad Guy
Find the Bad Guy could also be thought of as “playing the blame game” – basically, once a conflict arises, both partners start trying to figure out whose fault it is instead of working towards solutions. Once partners start behaving this way regularly, they begin to immediately expect to be blamed for something going wrong, sometimes causing them to launch a sort of pre-emptive strike. Of course, as this argument is going on, the problem remains unsolved, and trust continues to break down between the partners.
The Protest Polka
This section opens with a sobering fact – studies indicate that many of the couples who fall into this pattern early in marriage do not make it to their fifth anniversary. The thing that makes this issue more insidious is that it can be much harder to spot than Find the Bad Guy.
The Protest Polka is generally comprised of one partner reaching out towards the other partner, attempting to get some sort of reaction, generally looking for some sort of reassurance, and the other partner “stepping back” or “shutting down.” This can cause the first partner to reach out in more aggressive or persistent fashions, which, of course, only causes the second partner to shut down more, often because they’re worried responding will result in a fight or that they’ll respond incorrectly.
This can be a difficult pattern to spot when you’re trapped inside it, because no matter which role you play, you’re likely to think that your behavior is the fault of the other person. You will both need to take a step back and realize that you’re on the same team before this behavior can be corrected.
Freeze and Flee
This is generally the last step once couples start making the Demon Dialogues a regular occurrence in their relationships. In the previous dialogue, we saw how one partner was aggressively pursuing reactions from the other. Freeze and Flee is what happens when that person finally gives up.
Often, couples who have gotten to this stage are able to cooperate around pragmatic issues and be polite to one another – but the love aspect of their relationship is close to over. If the previous dialogue is a cyclic dance, this is no dance at all.
Each demon dialogue has some exercises for couples to do as a team to help them figure out if they may be trapped in one of these unhealthy patterns. If the couple is indeed trapped in one of these patterns, the book offers some tips on how to break free. We highly recommend picking up a copy of the book if any of the above sounds uncomfortably familiar.
Next week, we’ll be digging into the second conversation Dr. Sue Johnson discusses: Finding the Raw Spots.