5 ways to fix “demon dialogue” and attachment style issues in relationships.
Originally published September 20, 2021 on psychologytoday.com
- Believing in the power of your bond and mindful communication will strengthen your relationship.
- If you feel an issue needs attention, it’s better to discuss it with your partner and get it out in the open.
- Being transparent encourages vulnerability in your relationship and avoids guessing, which often leads to a negative feedback loop.
- Honest and loving communication will help create balance in fulfilling each other’s needs.
In recent years, I’ve experienced a significant rise in couples seeking therapy, which is a pattern that is occurring industry-wide. About 80 percent of therapists in private practice offer couples’ therapy now, and 50 percent of married couples have gone to marriage counseling. One of the most prominent challenges adversely affecting couple relationships among my clientele is the inability of partners to feel emotionally safe with each other. The others are couples’ communication and attachment styles, which may not be complementary.
When one or both partners in a relationship struggle with feelings of vulnerability, it can erode the foundation of the relationship. Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist and one of the leading innovators in couples’ therapy, encourages couples to recognize their “demon dialogues.”
What are “demon dialogues”?
In her book Hold Me Tight (Little, Brown Book Group, 2011), she noted that “demon dialogues” are specific ineffective communication patterns that spur a lack of safety in the relationship, push your partner away, and reinforce feelings of insecurity. The three most common patterns are: Find the Bad Guy or Mutual Attack, Protest Polka or Demand and Withdraw, Flight and Freeze or Tension and Withdrawal.
Dr. Johnson’s recognition of communication styles within a partnership may reflect and conflict with one or both partner’s attachment styles. In noted relationship psychiatrist Dr. Amir Levine’s book Attached (co-authored with Rachel S.F. Heller), Levine references attachment styles in adults: anxious, avoidant, and secure. These styles can affect love relationships. Levine notes that anxious people struggle not to appear needy but require ongoing reassurances. Avoidant people often face fears of feeling confined and trapped by relationships.
On the other hand, secure and attached individuals feel comfortable giving and receiving love. When anxious and avoidant people become involved with each other, it can create palpable tension in the relationship. One partner is pursuing, and the other is pushing away. Each individual attachment style contributes to how partners communicate with each other and whether they fall prey to the “demon dialogue” patterns Dr. Johnson cited.
It sounds complicated, but if you are in a relationship and are experiencing the behavioral patterns or competing attachment styles which Dr. Levine identified, here are five techniques you can practice to better cope and improve your relationship.
1. Figure out what your attachment style is: anxious, avoidant, or secure.
Be honest and open within your relationship and let your partner know how to meet your needs. Strive to respect each other and find solutions that feel satisfying and emotionally safe for both of you. Honest and loving communication will help create balance in fulfilling each other’s needs.
2. Communicate using words that express your feelings and avoid acting on assumptions.
Guessing often leads to a frustrating negative feedback loop. If you feel provoked to start a fight with little or no evidence, take a deep breath, and instead of fighting, explain what’s bothering you. Your partner will react better if they understand what’s going on.
3. Be transparent.
It encourages vulnerability in a relationship if you can tell secrets to your partner that you are reticent to tell others. It’s critical that you’re seen, heard, and understood, maintaining a healthy and reciprocal relationship.
4. Trust in your lovability.
If you feel like an issue needs attention, it’s better to talk and get it out in the open rather than repressing it out of fear of conflict. Harboring issues under the surface can fuel resentment and compound matters. Believing in the power of your bond and mindful communication will strengthen your relationship.
5. Invite your partner onto your island.
Reinforce that you’re a team and that your partnership is important to you. It’s imperative to make each other feel special and not easily replaceable. Taking these steps will help create an environment of shared and reciprocal vulnerability. The aim is not to merge with each other; the aim is to feel informed, respected, and loved.
Dr. Amir Levine & Rachel S.F. Heller, (2010) “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find—and Keep—love,” Penguin