Identifying Negative Relationship Cycles

Negative Relationship Cycles

When I work with couples in counseling, I start off by helping both partners understand the damaging dance that they get into, what moves each into their part of the negative dance, and how each partner’s moves trigger to escalate the cycle further. When each partner can be more conscious of their negative steps, we focus underneath the destructive content to learn more about what each are really trying to communicate.

Pursue – Defend Cycle

Often one partner attacks and criticism are an anxious protest of how the relationship and the bond are deteriorating. While the other partner’s defensiveness and emotionally shutting down are ways of communicating fear that he/she continues to disappoint and/or fail his partner and eventually his/her partner will leave.

Understanding Your Damaging Dance

Unfortunately, the more he/she tries to calm or “fix” the other partner’s complaints, the more shut out and misunderstood that partner becomes and reacts with more anger. Overtime, it doesn’t really matter what the fight is about, they both feel the same negative emotional response: “You aren’t listening to me!” “I just can’t make you happy no matter how hard I try!” “You don’t care about my feelings.” “You are always overreacting! You are crazy!” “I don’t feel like you want to be with me.” “I think you married the wrong partner. You want someone else.”

Deescalating The Cycle As A Team

In my couples counseling session, partners begin to become aware of their own and their partner’s reactions and how they both react when the cycle “enters the room.” The more they understand the cycle, the more they can work together to change it and deescalate it. As a team, the partner that usually tries to shut the other down, learns to lean in and hear the other partner’s protest as a longing for connection. The more critical partner tries to soften his/her protest so that the other partner feels safer to lean in.