Marriage Counseling, The Demon Dialogues

marriage counselingMarriage counseling is the process of recognizing and reshaping the relational dance between two partners. In a previous post (linked here) I discussed this process as presented by Susan Johnson the developer of Emotion Focused Couples Therapy. Susan describes emotion as the music that drives the interaction (dance steps) of the marriage relationship. In her book Created For Connection she discusses the three most common “dances” of a distressed marriage and calls them the “demon dialogues”. According to Johnson, these dialogues are rooted in the couple’s deep need for connection with one another rather than conflict, communication deficits, or skill deficits.

The demon dialogues emerge when a couple that has lost their sense of connectedness encounters a moment of stress or conflict.  When the partners feel disconnected from one another the normal stressors of marriage tend to get sidetracked by one of the three demon dialogues. However, when both partners in the marriage feel safely connected to one another managing the stress of parenting or financial concern can be navigated in a way that creates more connection.  The demon dialogues spin out of control leading to more stress, hurt feelings, and increased disconnection.

Marriage Dialogue 1: Find the Bad Guy

This dance occurs when both partners are stuck using attack as a way to protect ones self from feeling vulnerable, alone, or unsafe. Each partner blames the other for the problem because disconnection has made it unsafe to vulnerably acknowledge ones own responsibility in the situation. John blames the family’s financial issues on Mary’s irresponsible spending habits, while Mary blames John for not working hard enough to provide for the family. The pattern is cyclical in that the more one is blamed the more disconnected and unsafe they feel. The lack of safety puts each partner “on guard” for the attack of the other. A hypersensitive stance may cause the partners to see threat where there is none. This leads to more frequent attacks and ever increasing difficulty in resolving conflict.

Marriage Dialogue 2: Protest Polka

The most common pattern encountered in marriage counseling is the pursuer-distancer dynamic.  Susan Johnson calls it the protest polka. One partner protests against the growing disconnection in the marriage by pursuing the other. Many times this pursuit feels more like demanding or criticism to the partner causing them to withdraw. The more the distancer withdraws the more the pursuer criticizes or protests. The pursuer is looking for reassurance about questions such as “do you care about me?”, “do I matter to you?”, “am I important” while the distancer is attempting to protect ones self from feelings of inadequacy, not being good enough, and failure.

Marriage Dialogue 3: Freeze and Flee

The final dialogue is one of silence. Both partners hunker down in their respective fox holes and hope is nearly gone. The pursuer has no more energy to protest and therefore shuts down to protect ones self from hurt and loneliness. The distancer is finally enjoying some peace but remains disconnected as a way to protect against a sneak attack. Each partner has tried everything they know to fix the problem but nothing has worked. They feel frozen, stuck in a dance that brings deeper and deeper hurt; therefore they flee by either leaving the marriage or resigning themselves to a lonely loveless relationship.

Restoring Connection:

The solution to the three demon dialogues is connection. When couples feel safely connected to one another they are able to navigate stress and conflict in more flexible, vulnerable, and adaptive ways. Connection creates the secure sense that your partner will be there for you, will notice you, will respond to you, and is reliable for you no matter the circumstance. Restoration is possible even in the most difficult of situations. It takes incredibly hard work, it takes time, and it takes risk.

If you would like to start this journey toward restoring connection with your spouse call me at 217-231-1413.

Reference:

Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

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How to create a great marriage

A great marriage

How do you create a great marriage? At the end of couples counseling sessions I often ask, “what is one thing you could do to serve your spouse this week?”  If a great marriage is something that is created, I believe serving your spouse is the first act of creation.

What are some ways we can serve our spouses?

The Three Biggest Challenges of Christian Fatherhood

Fathering is not something that perfect men do, but something that perfects the man.I recently read a report on the “State of Biblical Fatherhood”. This report was based on a survey that Manhood Journey asked members of their online community to complete. The survey received responses from 274 fathers most of whom are Christians. Although this survey was not conducted as a scientific research endeavor it does offer some interesting insights into the minds and hearts of these Christian fathers. I find myself relating to these fathers and I think that many others will as well.  The report identifies the three most common challenges that Christian fathers report as they navigate life as a father.

Challenge # 1 Dads feel like they are failures

44% of the fathers made comments that aligned with the theme of feeling like a failure.   One participant stated,

“As a father struggling with this for over 4 months I feel like I have failed God as a Man, a Father, a Dad, a Husband and a leader of the family”

Wow! This is tough stuff no one wants to feel like a failure in all the major relational areas of life. It appears that Christian fathers are overwhelmed with the gravity of the role and do not feel equipped.

Challenge # 2 Dads want to be more intentional

42% of the Christian fathers surveyed made comments that fit under the theme of “I’d like to be more intentional”. These fathers struggled with issues like having enough energy after work to be engaged with their kids, marital problems, setting a good example, and battling outside influences.

One father said it like this,

“The decision between good-better-best is the dilemma. That is my SINGLE biggest challenge as a father right now.”

There are so many things calling for our attention and the attention of our families. Sports, music, culture, and friends are all calling for time and energy and in many instances these things are calling us away from worship and discipleship. Fathers are struggling to balance these demands and to be the one in the house that sets the limit and priority of Christ first.

Challenge # 3 Dads struggle with Disciplining and training

Although coming in a distant third, a significant number of Christian fathers (14%) identified disciplining and training as the biggest challenge they face as a father.

One participant remarked,

“Trying to raise them in a world of expectation and entitlement, I used to think it was just my kids but have realized it’s our world mentality…”

Our culture is saturated with material possessions and our families are bombarded with messages designed to create a sense of NEED in us. It can be incredibly difficult to set boundaries and expressions of discipline in this context.

Another participant stated it this way; “I have one child who has been a handful for years. He makes really poor decisions, but never owns up to it.”

I am so thankful for this report because it verbalizes experiences that I have had as a father myself. Not only that, many of the fathers I work with have expressed similar concerns and struggles.  This report includes some helpful ideas on how to move forward if you are experiencing one of these challenges. Here they are:

  1. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness, frequently
  2. Stop trying to “be God” to your children, instead reflect His Character.
  3. Stop trying to compare yourself to the “perfect” dads around you, they’re a mirage.
  4. Learn how to say no.
  5. Shelve non-family-centric hobbies when the kids are young.
  6. Keep at it, and stop checking daily results.
  7. Get with other guys.
  8. Take advantage of great Christian parenting resources
    1. Parenting by the book John Rosemond)
    2. Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Ted Tripp)

If you would like to download a copy of the full report go HERE

What are your greatest struggles as a Father? Leave a comment below.

5 Ways to Connect With Your Spouse

5 way to connect withConnection with our children is crucial, however research also shows that the relationship between a child’s parents is also very important for childhood outcomes. Beyond that having a connection with your spouse just makes married life more enjoyable and rewarding. Here are five simple ways to connect with your spouse

Plan a Date night:

Be intentional about taking time for just the two of you. It does not have to be extravagant but it has to be time in which you are solely focused on your spouse. Spend time walking, eating, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. Remind yourselves of why you got together, tell stories of your early days so that you can be reminded of why you connected in the first place.

Talk about emotions:

It is tempting to talk about work, the kids, or other family business. Talking about emotions develops trust, vulnerability, and connection. Providing empathy for the feelings expressed shows understanding and understanding leads to intimacy.

Turn off The TV

The TV is a killer of connection. Spend the last few minutes of the night sharing your experience of the day rather than flipping channels. This time of reviewing the day is a small dose of connection that can hold you together until your next date night.

Go to Church Together

Worship, Pray, and read the bible together. Share questions and doubts about faith. Serve those less fortunate and pass the faith on to your children.

Listen to Understand

Listen to understand what is happening inside your spouse. It is tempting to listen to fix, or correct or argue. But, seeking to understand demonstrates a desire to know your spouse deeply.  Check out the video below that hilariously illustrates this concept

THE NAIL

What do you think?  How do you connect with your Spouse?