Marriage Conversations for Connection

couples counselingMy last post regarding couples counseling discussed the three demon dialogues described by Susan Johnson in her book Created for Connection. The three patterns of conflict most common in couples counseling are called find the bad guy, the protest polka, and freeze and flee. Each dialogue is a unique pattern of couple interaction driven by the partners need for attachment. When a partner feels disconnected from their spouse their “attachment alarm” goes off. The resulting sense of losing their partner leads to a “primal panic”. Most people respond to this primal panic in one of two ways. They become demanding or clingy in a desperate effort to reconnect with their loved one or they shutdown and pull away in an attempt to manage the overwhelming loss.

Fortunately, couples counseling restores connection in marriages that are stuck in one of the three demon dialogues. As I wrote about in this post creating a “secure base” is one of the first steps to restoring the connection that allows for a new dance. Couples counseling focuses on establishing this secure base by fostering dialogue that consists of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement of the partners.

Couples Counseling Fosters Accessibility

An accessible partner is one that is “there” when reached for. When feeling alone, scared, and vulnerable we reach out to our loved ones in an attempt to gain comfort and safety. When a partner is accessible they remain present for their spouse and provide empathy, validation, and compassion. Although this reaching may come across as anger the responsive spouse views the “reach” as a need driven by hurt and fear. An accessible spouse sends an implied message of “you are not alone”, “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together”.

Couples Counseling Fosters Responsiveness

A responsive partner is “moved” by the reach of the other. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by another’s emotion and we instinctively hide from it, stuff it down, or deny it. This appears as cold, unresponsive, and distant to a partner in pain. A responsive partner is able to “feel” the other with a deep understanding of the hurt, loss, and fear. Understanding ones partner in this way creates a sense of moving toward each other. The reaching out has worked and the hurting partner experiences re-connection.

Couples Counseling Fosters Engagement

An engaged partner is “moved” by the emotion and pain of his/her partner and stays “in” it. They are able to maintain the connection with the partner throughout the difficult time. They do not run away from the powerful emotions, downplay them, or seek to minimize them. An engaged partner is able to feel the emotion while experiencing a safe connection with self and the other.

Start the Conversation

You can begin these A.R.E. conversations with your partner today. Although it takes practice ,as you work you will experience more connection. Couples counseling can also be effective when learning to be accessible, responsive and engaged. If you would like to overcome the power of the demon dialogues you can start the process today by calling 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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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?

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?