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Breaking the Circle of Conflict

May 22, 2020

    The moment the sign announcing a traffic circle or roundabout is just ahead panic rises and the brain shuts down. I have to figure out what lane to be in to continue going straight and GPS does not help. It serves only to add to the choices my brain cannot process. The solution is to just keep circling until all roads leading into and out of the roundabout are completely empty and then I make my escape. This is not an elegant or practical solution. Neither is avoiding all roads with all traffic roundabouts.

     Cycles of conflict in our relationships with partners, family, friends, and co-workers operate just like a traffic circle. We see the signs; we cannot avoid the road ahead and we enter the conflict. Our partner enters the room and slams the door. We either stand our ground and prepare for the heated argument to begin or we withdraw completely and refuse to even acknowledge the tension. The things leading to tension and disagreements may differ. Last week it was the dishwasher not being emptied and this week it conflicts about how to manage a child’s struggle in school. The content is different, but the signs are all the same. Someone says “here we go again” and the other rolls their eyes. The next step is someone leaves the room or just refuses to talk and the other shouts “you never listen to me!” You find yourself angry and frustrated caught in a cycle and there seems to be no escape.

     Most couples find themselves caught in these cycles of conflict that are, unfortunately, all too familiar. There is hope! These cycles can change. The first step is to identify what Dr. Sue Johnson calls your demon dialogues.

  1. Find the Bad Guy also known as Mutual Attack
  2. The Protest Polka also known as Demand and Withdraw
  3. Flight and Freeze also known as Tension and Avoidance

     Find the Bad Guy is when both partners stand their ground and hurl emotionally wounding missiles at each other that causing the rupture in the relationship to deepen. Both partners feel rejected and see the source of their emotional pain as their partner’s fault.

     The Protest Polka is when one partner lodges a complaint and the other partner does not respond. The protesting partners ups their game by escalating the criticism as the other partner shuts down and withdraws. Partners drive each other further into rejection and loneliness with no one feeling safe.

     Flight and Freeze sometimes follow Find the Bad Guy. Partners give up and retreat into hopelessness. Each one is afraid and alone and has no way back to safety and connection.

     Ongoing patterns of conflict block safe re-connection leaving partners feeling lost and abandoned. Hope comes when we learn new patterns and find safety with our partners. The first step in experiencing block empathy, understanding, and connection with your partner is to understand your conflict cycle. Dr. Sue Johnson has created a simple exercise to help you Name and Tame the Demon Dialogues. A secure, safe, loving connection is possible and you can begin your journey to a better relationship today.

Couples Counseling

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