Matrimony, the state of being married, might be the ultimate dance of giving and taking. And so many of us give it a whirl. Here’s the deal: When we’re in a relationship in which we feel seen and cherished, we bare our souls, we fall in love. Consequently, (and understandably) generosity, grace, empathy, and kindness abound.
It’s a system that psychologist Sue Johnson has so beautifully identified as an infinity loop of connection. Essentially, using an attachment lens, Johnson (originally supported by Leslie Greenberg’s work), understands distress in relationships are centered in the loss of secure emotional connection. When this happens, a negative cycle, or “dance,” develops as each partner tries to cope with the loss of that connection, usually by defending their soul with responses like anger, criticism, distancing, silence, or relationship distractions. Once established, these negative cycles can crop up over the slightest issue and, over time, are corrosive to the bonds of trust and security in the relationship.
Identifying this “dance” is key for couples. It gives them an emotional language to get ahead of patterns that push them around. One of the more common dance steps is described like this: “When you ask so many questions, I typically shut down. And when I shut down, you typically try harder to get me to talk. That pisses me off even more, so I talk even less.”
Understanding a “dance” with your own partner can unlock some of the defenses, allowing for the more vulnerable emotions like understanding, compassion, and empathy to rise. In turn, each partner can then express a more loving, compassionate response.
This whole dance thing in relationships is something you can’t unsee once you know it. We all have our patterns. And so often you can’t see them when you’re in them. And (sigh), that’s where the hard work comes into play, the reflection, the release of the ego – all the stuff we’d probably like to skip. I know with my own personal husband that despite how pissed off I might be, I have the power to break the cycle by slowing down and understanding first, which gives me more access to empathy. And gives us both a better chance to put our lids back on.
If you’re looking for insight on the dance, or how to best connect with your partner during times of conflict, I suggest picking up a copy of my latest book, Feeling Seen. Because my friends, you are not alone in this. Everyone deserves access to their best selves, and when we are acknowledged, we will rise.