Five Ways To Prevent Your Relationship From Unraveling

Couples tend to struggle the most over their sex lives, parenting, and financial issues. However, those that are emotionally healthy can frequently listen to each other and find a compromise. Unfortunately, not all couples are able to resolve their differences easily. Without help, these relationships can unravel, leaving nothing but resentments and hurt feelings behind.

Missing the Cues

According to Sue Johnson, developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), at the heart of these relationships is a feeling of emotional disconnectedness. Neither partner is emotionally connected to the other person and may be missing cues that could help a couple avoid getting head-to-head confrontations.

The Survival Code

Sue Johnson points out that when partners are not responsive or emotionally available to us, especially in our times of need, our anxiety increases and we find ourselves in a state of fear. We become worried that our partner may not emotionally be available to us. That can mean that our partner doesn’t care about us or our well-being. If our partner doesn’t care, then how can they be capable of looking out for our best interests? On a primitive level, this could mean our actual, physical survival. This fear is wired into our brains, in what Johnson calls our “survival code.”  

The Three Demon Dialogues

There are three ways that couples often deal with the emotional isolation related to our survival code, which Johnson calls the “Demon Dialogues.” These include:

Find the Bad Guy: This is a never-ending cycle of blaming the other person for something they said or did.  It can leave both partners feeling defensive and ready to strike back if the other lashes out at us. This cycle just perpetuates the resentments that each partner already feels for each other.

The Protest Polka: This is also known as the “demand-withdrawal dance” where one person makes a demand and the other withdrawals or tries to avoid the situation. For example, a wife insists on talking to her husband, while he tries to withdraw by watching TV, drinking, or leaving the house. Subsequently, the issue never actually gets resolved.

Freeze and Flee: In this situation, both sides feel helpless, and neither is willing to take a risk or reach out to the other. Couples ignore each other, but now there are new resentments on top of what was originally there. Johnson notes that the couple isn’t actually dancing at all. They are frozen in place and not willing to make a change.

Finding Solutions for Couples

If you are in one of these patterns, there is hope but you will likely need professional help. When working with a skilled couple’s counselor, you can start to identify these patterns of behavior and work to become more emotionally connected to each other by:

1. Understanding the Demon Dialogues and the role each person plays in the dynamic.

2. Learning communication skills to appropriately express feelings and learn to engage in active listening.

3. Developing strategies that allow each person to see the other’s point of view.

4. Getting to the root of the conflict and resolving differences.

5. Building trust with each other.

Using Emotionally Focused Therapy

One technique in particular available to couples is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).  This is a strategy where the therapist and the clients work together to create changes so that individuals are better able to emotionally respond and interact with one another. The objective is for the couple to create a stronger emotional bond with one another.

By working together as a couple, they can build trust and forge an environment where they are emotionally present with each other, instead of having their differences emotionally isolate them. This can be done by identifying the maladaptive ways couples respond to each other and by learning new strategies to more easily become emotionally connected to one another. This helps couples learn new ways to respond to each other and strengthens their relationship. While it does require couples to be motivated and put in the work, the rewards are invaluable.

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