Often, when couples come to see a therapist, they come because they are stuck in a negative pattern that has taken over their relationship. They have tried to communicate but, instead, find themselves descending into a spiral of blaming and defensiveness. This pattern is called “the dance” or “the cycle”: the infinity loop that leaves them feeling disconnected from one another, alone, and helpless.
According to Sue Johnson (2008), each individual within the couple needs to recognize the “music of their negative dance”. It takes some time for each partner to identify their pattern and why they keep getting stuck. The video shown below, called Taming the Cycle, can help each person understand how they get stuck. Our human nature is to blame the other person. However, externalizing blame will make any progress more difficult. That’s where an experienced Emotionally Focused Therapist (EFT) can help. An EFT therapist will help the couple discover and dissect their negative dance so that change can happen, and the attachment bond can be reestablished and repaired. Let’s take a closer look at this negative pattern from an attachment lens.
A Negative Dance Takes on Its Own Life
Attachment distress is caused when we cannot connect with our partner. When caught in a web of miscommunication and blame, and feeling hurt and helpless, it is easy to wonder if your partner even cares. This negative dance of push-pull cannot be solved by logical problem solving. This is a result of the fight or flight part of the brain taking over, simultaneously bypassing logical thought. Logical thought returns after each have had time to cool down, but even then, you may be left wondering what just happened.
After a negative dance has been established, it takes on its own life. Johnson (2008) says, “Both people have to grasp how the moves of each partner pull the other into the dance” (p. 85). Most couples are unaware of their position in the dance so they each do what they have always done. It might look something like this: your partner blames you for something you did, and you defend yourself. But your partner feels unheard and unloved when met with defensiveness so they may withdraw or intensify their efforts to be heard. The feelings of hopelessness that the web of miscommunication and disconnection create will never end without intentional disruption. This type of dance is called pursue & withdraw, and it is the most common negative dance couples get stuck in.
A New Pattern is Learned and Established
A trained EFT therapist will help couples see where they get stuck and help them turn to connection instead of blame. Safety is established in couples EFT therapy so each partner can openly express their needs and desires. This is achieved using an intervention called the Tango. According to Johnson (2019), the Tango is a sequenced set of interventions that the therapist utilizes to unravel the negative dance that brought them to therapy. Together, they each learn to fight the enemy, which is the negative dance. They gain an understanding of how they each contribute to the negative dance, and they have the opportunity to experience each other in new ways in session. This creates a new bond of love and connection that had previously been lost. With this new foundation of security with each other, couples are able to repair and maintain connection even through future conflict for an even richer relationship.
If you and your partner have found yourselves in a negative dance, you can take heart that the connection and security you once had with each other does not have to be gone forever. Take the risk to break the cycle by reaching out to a trained EFT therapist who can guide the two of you towards a more secure relationship.
Johnson, S. (2008) Hold me tight. New York, NY: Little Brown and & Co.
Johnson, S. (2019) Attachment theory in practice. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
S. Mead (2018, March 1) Taming the cycle. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt4VhRHsjm8