marriage cycles of conflict

How To Stay Connected

When couples get into conflicts, both partners play a part in the dance of disagreement and how they disconnect from each other emotionally.

Both partners also have a role in maintaining the connection in the relationship. For couples to create a new positive pattern and defeat their past negative cycle of arguing, they will need to join forces together to make a stand to defeat the negative cycle.

Defeating The Cycle Requires Teamwork

The only way a couple can change their negative cycle is by seeing each other as teammates rather than as adversaries. They must have the belief that the cycle is the enemy and that that enemy must be stopped at all cost.

The cycle cannot be defeated unless both partners team up and fight it together as partners. When the cycle takes over, both teammates must be willing to step back and see the negative dance as pitting them against the other.

Stop & Step Out Of Cycle Together

In my couples counseling sessions, I help couples see their negative pattern of fighting by slowing down and processing both partner’s triggers, perceptions, deeper emotions, and how their action steps become triggers for the other partner. My goal is to help them become familiar with each other’s fighting styles, perceptions, and negative dance steps.

When a couple commits to start noticing their cycle and they work as a team to step out of the cycle, I know that they are beginning to create a more positive dance in their relationship. The cycle cannot win if both partners team up to work against it.

I remind my couples that the cycle doesn’t give up easily and it has tremendous power, so they must be on their guard. The cycle has a way of showing up when they both are tired, cranky, feeling alone, busy, frustrated, irritable, running late, overwhelmed, and so on.

Slow Down & Notice Internal Body Emotions

Working as a team includes helping each other to remember to slow down when disagreements come up and to have the internal observer watching for the negative pattern. The body is a great internal observer for noticing the arrival of the negative cycle.

I ask partners to notice inside their body and share what is happening. Knowing what is happening inside can help both partners be more alert to the negative cycle, work together to decrease arguing and increase the connection.

The more both partners can listen to their internal signals, the better they will become at recognizing what’s occurring between them in the moment. These internal signals can also help both partners better understand what the other partner needs to stay connected in conflicts.

The Pursuer often wants to feel understood, heard, and validated. The Withdrawer often wants to feel safe, to feel ‘okay’, and to be pleasing to the partner.

Listening To The Body

The body’s emotional signals are sent faster than the brain can often organize or understand. The body’s signals move fast with the purpose of protecting us from danger. Body signals move quickly to protect a partner from abandonment, shame, loss, etc.

If one or both partners have been hurt by past relationships, then the brain’s defensiveness against being hurt in the future can be on high alert. Couples may try to stay connected, but their fear of being abandoned, shamed, or hurt quickly takes over and they fight, freeze, or flee.

Listening to one’s body can help stop the cycle from taking over. I have found that some people feel their emotions in their gut, while others can feel it mostly in their shoulders, neck, or even in their head. The key is to internally slow yourself down in the moment and notice what might be deeper underneath the initial response, such as anger or anxiety.

The initial emotion of anger may be a cover for deeper hurt or fear. Sharing the anger with your partner gives power to the cycle while sharing the deeper emotions of hurt or fear probably de-escalates the cycle. Slowing down and reviewing what was happening right before anger’s appearance can better uncover the underlying emotions.

Self & Partner Attunement

The purpose of listening to the body is to become more attuned with your own and your partner’s deeper down emotions. The body often knows what is happening long before the head. Paying more attention to the feelings occurring in the body helps partners become more aware of the deeper hurt, fear, and needs rather than letting anger or anxiety take over. The body provides new, more authentic information of what is really needed and what is important in uncertain times.

In my work with couples, I often see great progress in deeper connection when one or both partners get in touch with the signals from their bodies. They’ve had these internal, vulnerable emotions there to direct them for better understanding of their real needs, but they just hadn’t been cued in to them.

As they start better listening to the body’s messages and taking in their meaning, they find themselves sharing more effectively with their partner and acting with much more sensitivity. This is what they both want…to have a stronger connection and bond in the relationship.