What does this statement mean? It may mean that you are seeking some helpful communication techniques: how to fight fair, resolve conflict, express wants and needs, etc. But my guess is that both of you feel lonely – desperately lonely. Fear is often the emotion that underlies this loneliness. Our connection with our mate is deeply primal – just like the relationship of a child and parent. Stories about neglected orphans recount their lack of crying and their failure to thrive. When the marriage relationship is neglected, it is as deeply filled with grief. Failure to communicate may actually be grief at not knowing how to rescue or change the relationship.
In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson describes what she calls “Demon Dialogues.” These are the responses many of us make when we are in this lonely place with our mate. When the fear of disconnection and loss of the intimate relationship arise, we often become more and more negative in our interactions. Dr. Johnson calls these three the basic demon dialogues: Find the Bad Guy, the Protest Polka, and Freeze and Flee.
Find the Bad Guy
This is just what it sounds like – it means that we find fault with the other person. Why would we do this? Because we’ve been hurt, it hasn’t been resolved, and we are tender, and maybe angry, and disappointed. The desire to “win” is remarkably strong in all of us. But who really wins when we both accuse, put down, and belittle the other person? What we really want is to be close again. “Find the Bad Guy” never produces a winner, and it does not result in closeness. So what’s the benefit? No one wins. Ever.
The Protest Polka
This is probably the most common of the demon dialogues. The protest is about not getting a response from our mate. The deep grief caused by getting no response is so strong that we would even be happy with a negative response – something, anything. This dialogue involves a negative reaching out (why won’t you …) that causes our partner to step back (because you are so …). So we step forward again, perhaps more negatively – and so the dance goes on. Sometimes we take turns stepping forward, trying to get the other person to respond. Sometimes our roles are static. Either way, this polka does not produce what we really want, which is to be safe, cared for, and vulnerable with each other. As in the real polka, the partners keep spinning and spinning. In this dance, the spinning is often a spiral downward to extremes of emotion – one pushing for response, and one stonewalling for protection.
Freeze and Flee
This demon dialogue can result from the failure of the “Protest Polka” to produce anything but raw emotion. Both partners shut down emotionally – no one is pursuing, no one is backing away. This dance makes no connection and only defeated pain remains. Both partners are silent and feel helpless to change anything. If no intervention is made, one or both of the partners may just give up and leave the relationship – even though what they really want is connection. Neither knows where or how to start and life together is largely silent, unemotional. The dances have ended and each one has turned away to try to survive alone. Hope is gone, trying has stopped. It’s quiet – much too quiet.
Christian Counseling Can Deepen the Communication in Your Relationship
If you find yourselves in one of these “demon dialogues,” you should know that you are not alone. Most couples struggle. However, you can get out of the dialogues and into more intimate interactions that are intentional and satisfying. Christian counseling can provide a safe space for both you and your partner and a skilled counselor can help you to reach beyond your fears as you genuinely engage with each other.