Relationships: Communication Patterns
This blog post will look at communication patterns within a relationship and how identifying these patterns can help us understand what is happening in a relationship and allow us to make changes.
For a relationship to be healthy the couple should feel connected to one another. Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson talks about important attachments are in adult relationships. It is through understanding and accepting the importance of emotional attachments that we are able to recognise the patterns of behaviours couples find themselves and understand why they are acting in negative ways in their relationship.
Johnson (2011) highlights several ways that couples may find themselves communicating that are damaging to their relationship and stem from a feeling of disconnect. When a couple have become disconnected to each other they will likely enter into one of the following dialogues or dances in reaction to their deep need to feel a connection again. The couple will have lost their sense of connectedness and this will cause them to react in emotional ways which damages the relationship further.
So if you are finding yourself struggling to communicate in a healthy way with your partner, it may be helpful for you to look for patterns in the way you talk to each other and see if they fit into any of the following dialogues:
Find the Bad guy
This dialogue is characterised by the couple continually looking to assign blame to each other. Essentially you will both be feeling vulnerability and disconnection in the relationship. It may feel unsafe for you to accept your share of the responsibility for your relationship troubles as you may not feel that you can fully trust your partner right now to act with kindness and forgiveness. This dialogue is a vicious circle as the more you attack each other, the more sensitive you get to an attack, which then makes you more likely to attack you partner and so on...
In this dialogue you and your partner will take on the roles of ‘pursuer’ and ‘withdrawer’. As the pursuer you are sensitive to the disconnection that you are feeling and are therefore trying to get your partners attention in anyway you can. As the withdrawer, you're experiencing your partner's need for attention as nagging or criticism and will try to protect yourself from feelings of inadequacy or failure by withdrawing further.
Freeze and Flee
This dialogue follows on from protest polka. As the pursuer you may have given up trying to reconnect with your partner and have withdrawn to protect yourself. As the withdrawer, whilst you are appreciating the quiet that comes from the pursuer stepping away, you continue to withdraw in an effort to protect yourself from sneak attacks. In this dialogue, neither of you are connected or attached to the other; you may have resigned yourself to the marriage ending or to being in a loveless marriage.
Through restoring your connection you can move away from these destructive dialogue patterns. As you begin to feel safe and secure you will be able to cope and manage stressful situations and difficulties together without it negatively impacting your marriage.
But how can you restore connection?
This is going to be individual for each couple however here are some ideas and questions to get you and your partner started;
To begin with have a realistic conversation about how much time you spend together and how you can find more time to dedicate to your marriage e.g. a monthly date night, an evening a week to talk to each other without external distractions (such as the tv or your mobile phones)
Make time for each other based on what is realistic for you. Don't set yourself up for failure - if you can't manage a weekly date night then don't plan on that; make sure that you plan something that is achievable and won't lead to feelings of contention if one of you can't make it.
Listen to each other; this sounds obvious however how often do you feel that you're not being listened to or do you lose focus when someone is talking to you? Active listening requires you consciously paying attention to what the other person is saying and ensuring you stay present and connected throughout the conversation.
Couples counselling; counselling for couples can focus on many different areas and restoring connection is something a counsellor or psychotherapist can help with through exploring your relationship and communication patterns.
The idea is that you find something that works for you that enables you to re-establish your attachments and to allow you to feel connected within the relationship. Every relationship is unique so it is important that you pay attention to specific things that work (or don't work!) for you.