Why are Conflicts Present Between You and Me?

Conflicts are inevitable in a relationship. The cause could be different in every case, but in most cases, the fights between couples are most about protests over emotional disconnection.

The disconnection could trigger conflict as people are demanding an emotional attachment (or connection) from their partner. When a person is unavailable or unresponsive emotionally, the partner will face being out in the cold, alone, helpless. This kind of condition elicits various negative emotions such as anger, sadness, hurt, and the top of it: FEAR.

The anger, criticism, the demands are really cry to their lovers — calls to stir their hearts, draw their mates back in emotionally and reestablish a sense of safe connection.

Losing connection activates “fear alarm,” which jeopardizes one’s sense of security. When having disagreements or arguments, a securely attached couple will see it as momentary, and the fear would away quickly and easily tamped down. Meanwhile, for the insecure couple, it would be the opposite one. In such fraying bonds, the concern is overwhelming and trigger two general responses: (1) demanding and clingy (to draw comfort & reassurance); (2) withdraw and detach (to soothe and protect ourselves)

Then, what is the possible reason for not being able to understand each others’ signals of needs?

  • Not tuned in to the partner
  • Distracted or caught up in your agendas
  • Do not know how to speak the language of attachment
  • Unclear messages about the needs / how much you care
  • You speak unclearly because you feel ambivalent about your needs
  • Send out calls for connection tinged with anger and frustration due to the lack of confidence and safety
  • Wind up demanding rather than requesting

The inability to cannot connect safely (losing connection for a long time) with the partner will create basic patterns called the dance of distress.

There are three types of dance of distress:

  1. Find the Bad Guy/It’s Not Me, It’s You: mutual blame effectively keeps the couple miles apart, blocking re-engagement and the creation of a haven. The couple keep blaming each other for their distressed relationship

The underlying reason for finding the wrong one is to protect your self and anticipate being hurt. The form could be a mutual attack, accusation, blame, close-off all the ways out. It starts when a person feels hurts or vulnerable with the partner and suddenly becomes out of control. The result of the hurtful feeling is the urge to use anything for getting back the control, defining partner in a negative way, shining black light to the partner

Overcoming strategies:

  • Stay in the present and focus on what is happening between them right now
  • Look at the circle of criticism that spins both of them around. There is no right “start” to a circle
  • Consider the circle, the dance, as their enemy and the consequences of not breaking the circle

2. Protest Polka (Demand-Withdraw/Criticize-Defend): protest against the loss of the sense of secure attachment that we all need in a relationship. One partner becomes critical and aggressive (actively protesting the disconnection), and the other defensive and distant.

The underlying reason for this dance is an effort to get a response that connects and reassures from the partner. The form could be missing each others’ signals, often complain as “communication problem” or “constant tension,” one partner is hammering on the door. In contrast, the other one holds the door firmly shut, “I ask him/her to dance, but she/he does not seem interested at all.” The result of this dance one is caught in the pattern of pursuit and protest, while the other has been seen as a lack of emotional response.

Overcoming strategies:

  • See the whole dance between you and partner and what it says about the relationship (not merely the content of the relationship). Try to see the bigger picture of the situation of your relationship
  • Grasp how the moves of each partner pull the other into the dance
  • The attachment issue cannot be solved with logical problem solving or form communication skill techniques
  • Tune in to the moments of disconnection, the protest, and the distress then learn to see polka (the dance) as the enemy
  • Begin to stand together and call the enemy by name, so they can slow the music down and learn how to step to the side and create enough safety to talk about attachment emotions and needs

3. Freeze and Flee (Withdraw-Withdraw): when dancers feel so hopeless that they begin to give up and put their feelings and needs in the deep freeze, leaving only numbness and distance. Both people step back to escape hurt and despair. In dance terms, suddenly, no one is on the floor; both partners are sitting out.

The underlying reason for this dance is both partners decided that their difficulty lay in themselves, in their innate flaws. Then it creates deadly silence; no one seems to be invested in the dance; both partners shut down into frozen defense and denial; no one is reaching for anyone, no dance at all. The dance is formed after the protest polka has been going on for a while in a relationship (the pursuing gives up and goes silent).

Generally, there are two ways of self-protection & hold on connection with a partner when do not feel safe and responded to:

  • Avoid engagement: numb the emotions, to shut down and deny the attachment needs
  • Listen to the anxiety and fight for recognition and fulfillment/response

The critical point of changing and growing relationship is encouraging emotional responsiveness. Components of emotional responsiveness are:

  • Accessibility: can I reach you?

Staying open to partner even though you have doubts or feel insecure

  • Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?

Tuning in to your partner and showing that her/his emotions (especially needs and fear) have an impact on you. It means that you accept and place a priority on the emotional signals that have been conveyed by the partner and sends clear signals of comfort and paring when the partner need

  • Engagement: do I know you will value me and stay close?

Emotional engagement is a special kind of attention that we give only to a loved one.

In the end, a relationship is a story of two that fills with laugh and tears, also joy and fear. The relationship might not immune from conflicts, yet every rocky road could be conquered together. Does it not?

Reference: Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime Love; book written by Dr. Sue Johnson

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