Couples often find themselves entangled in arguments about money, kids, or intimacy issues. Many report a breakdown in communication and want their partner to change their behavior in order to resolve conflicts. However, these issues are typically the visible part of a much larger problem: a feeling of emotional disconnection. When they attempt to rekindle this lost connection, couples frequently fall into heated exchanges known as 'Demon Dialogues'.
These 'Demon Dialogues', identified by Dr. Sue Johnson through her extensive research on couples, manifest as three problematic patterns:
FIND THE BAD GUY
This pattern involves a relentless barrage of mutual accusations. Partners dig into their respective corners, always bracing for the other's attack and guarding themselves with defensive weapons of words. One partner may say, "I'm ready to lower my defenses only if he does first; but just in case, I have a counterattack ready if he comes at me with accusations." Such confrontations often intensify and can set the stage for even more destructive interactions.
THE PROTEST POLKA
In a dance of distress, one partner becomes the pursuer by lobbing criticism and demands while the other retreats into defense mode. Becoming overwhelmed, the defensive partner withdraws emotionally, leaving their significant other feeling invisible and desperate to be heard. Their attempts at reconnection become louder and more frantic, leading to an escalation and deepening withdrawal.
The pursuer may confess that they initiate these conversations and becomes incensed when the other doesn't engage. "I bombard him with questions, hoping he'll show some acknowledgment of my feelings," she explains. Meanwhile, he reflects on his inner turmoil: "Her questioning and frustration make me feel inadequate; I begin to believe she's better off without me." (FYI - 80% of pursuers are women and 20% are men).
Both partners are crying out over their severed emotional bonds without realizing that they're echoing one another's fear of being abandoned.
FREEZE AND FLEE
If this pattern persists over time and emotional wounds deepen without healing, both individuals may sink into hopelessness, resorting to a withdrawal-withdraw pattern. This entails pulling away to shelter from pain and loss—communication dwindles until it's nearly nonexistent.
Is there any light at the end of this tunnel? Absolutely! Recognizing these patterns in your relationship is the crucial first step toward transformation. By identifying the underlying issues rather than focusing on contentious topics, couples can work to replace negative cycles with constructive ones that foster connection and safety—and these skills can be taught.
In essence, when there's an emotional rift between partners, any contentious topic can spark a 'Demon Dialogue', leading them down one of three paths: finding fault with each other, engaging in a cycle of pursuit and retreat, or mutually withdrawing into isolation. Yet there is a silver lining: by recognizing and addressing these distress patterns, couples have the potential to mend their fractures and rediscover their emotional bond.
Learn more about how demon dialogues can be improved and fixed. Relate has created a course, Men and Women, Pursuers and avoiders - Click here to learn more.