If you are like the most people, you probably sometimes wonder, “how the h*ll did we even get here?”
Fights and disconnection create a vicious cycle that can take over the relationship. This cycle can appear to come up out of nowhere—even when you thought the relationship was going good.
There are three common relationship cycles that couples get caught in:
1. Pursue – Withdraw:
In this cycle, one partner is pursuing connection. The pursuing partner longs for connection, but to the other partner it can come off as critical, demanding, or pushy. When anyone feels criticized and pushed, they will either fight back or withdraw to avoid conflict. Withdrawers in this cycle tend to feel overwhelmed by their partner’s requests and so shut down in order to keep the peace.
2. Attack – Attack:
In an attack-attack cycle, you again see a pursuer who is tying to reach for connection with their partner—often they feel angry and frustrated that they can’t get through to their partner. As communication is primarily through tone of voice, the other partner hears the angry tone and goes on the defensive. This defensive stance typically has frustration associated with it as well. This can escalate until both partners are critical and attacking of each other.
3. Withdraw – Withdraw:
A withdraw-withdraw cycle is the least common, but just as painful. In this cycle, both partners are longing for connection but don’t want to rock the boat. They may keep their feelings inside instead of sharing them with each other in order to keep the peace and to prevent things from getting worse. Slowly over time, the connection continues to erode until the couple may function as great friends, coparents, and roommates—but the deep emotional connection that allows them to know they are valuable to each other is missing.
Marriage counseling and couple therapy can help you regain control of your relationship by recognizing the cycle you both get into and empowering you to change the pattern.
Elizabeth Polinsky, MSW, LCSW, is a marriage and couple therapist specializing in working with military members, veterans, and their families. Liz is located in Norfolk, Virginia, and provides online counseling services throughout Virginia, South Carolina, and Arkansas. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Virginia (#0904011022), South Carolina (#11302), and Arkansas (#7735-C). She is also licensed as a Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy in Virginia (#0730000567) under the supervision of Dr. Victoria Holroyd at The Relationship Center at East Beach.
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Hey, I'm Elizabeth Polinsky and I am a marriage therapist in the Hampton Roads area. In Communicate & Connect, I provide educational tips for relationships, with special application to military relationships.