Conversation 1: Finding Your Demon Dialogue
Many couples can readily name what they so often fight about (parenting; money; the in-laws, sex), but not as many know how they fight or disconnect from each other – and how their very attempts to address a point of pain with their partner may backfire. Partners can end up unintentionally dancing their mate into a doomed exchange -– a “Demon Dialogue.”
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In a Hold Me Tight® Workshop for Couples, partners learn about the science of adult love and bonding, and apply these principles to their own relationship in a structured way, over the course of a series of private conversations.
The basic premise is rather simple, actually. We know that as human beings we are biologically wired to form bonds with a few precious others in the world to thrive. Many scientific studies have corroborated that when we know that someone in the world “has our back” we are healthier, more likely to survive, and it gives a sense of well-being. We understand now that a special kind of alarm system is wired into our brains and it is set off when we lose our secure connection with our most-important other. This alarm system triggers the well known Fight, Flight or Freeze response. With this understanding in place, the workshop follows the map of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Dr. Sue Johnson. By following the EFT map, couples begin to move from the pain and distance of disconnection, to a place of deeper understanding, security and re-connection.
The first conversation of the workshop is “Finding your Demon Dialogue.” This conversation is an opportunity to – possibly for the first time – gain a new perspective on what is actually happening for each partner in the relationship when they are disconnected or in conflict. Here partners get to be the proverbial “fly on the wall” and see the their fight/flight/freeze “dance” of emotional and verbal moves and counter-moves from a more objective distance – as if they were a fly on the wall watching the action.
By using partially completed sentences and paragraphs for guidance, each partner answers questions to help describe their own feelings and behaviors when they are caught in a conflict with their partner. They begin by identifying a common trigger situation between them (e.g., when one of them is under work stress and is less available to the family), and then proceed to explore the “dance” that unfolds:
“When I don’t feel safely connected to you, I _______ (describe an action or behavior, such as yell, sulk, withdraw, get sarcastic, etc.)”
Each partner describes their own “steps in the dance,” then collaborate to get a view of what is happening between them during those moments of disconnection. The partners can begin to see how Partner A’s actions trigger Partner B’s responses, and Partner B’s responses trigger more of Partner A’s reactions, around and around they go in a circular pattern. For example:
Partner 1: “I yell because I’m so frustrated that you aren’t hearing me.”
Partner 2: “When you yell I just want to shut the conversation down so it doesn’t get worse. I get so tense when we fight.”
And the rudimentary outline of the cycle begins to take shape:
Partner 1: “And when you shut down like that, I worry that we’ll never have a way to resolve our conflicts, and so I just yell more to get your attention – to get you to come back and talk to me.”
Partner 2: “And when you yell even more, I am totally sure that we will never resolve this and it will just get worse and worse, so that’s when I walk out. So it doesn’t get even worse.”
After a bit more more flushing out and deepening, the exercise ends with this phrase: "The more I ______(e.g., yell), the more you _____ (e.g., walk away). We are both trapped in pain and isolation. Seeing this dance is our first step out of the circle of disconnection.
Partners who do this exercise say that it is a big relief to NAME what happens between them. Once they can begin to see their dance from this vantage point, they can together step out of the grip of the Demon Dialogue. THE PATTERN becomes the common enemy that they both choose to defeat together. Their partner is then no longer the enemy.
Seeing what happens from this perspective between partners is a crucial FIRST step on the path to reconnection and repair. The next conversation in this process, Finding The Raw Spots, allows couples to explore the underlying, deeper level feelings that drive the triggers and reactions, but are often not understood or well expressed.