“All happy families are the same, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Although all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, there are certain “fuses” capable of igniting arguments. Among the ten most common, we find intimacy, tidiness and cleanliness, money, relatives, the so-called “false memory syndrome,” unsolicited advice about the other person’s activities, parenting (but also pets!), vacations, and the habit of scapegoating.

These fuses are “territories” we are all familiar with, in which we have at least once found ourselves walking…

10 “territories” that facilitate arguments

  1. “We don’t do it enough” versus “You only think about that” – ladies and gentlemen, the great divide under the sheets.
  2. “Don’t you feel like you’re overdoing it?” – Tidiness and cleanliness: one partner creative (another way of saying untidy!) and the other super attentive.
  3. Money: when there is not enough of it, when one partner has different earnings from the other, different habits and positions… – who wants to use savings to change cars, and who wants to go on vacation; who wants to save and who doesn’t even think about it…
  4. Memories that don’t match – false memory syndrome: the one that unknowingly leads us to sweeten the past (especially our own) and, on the other hand, to weigh down someone else’s!
  5. “I’d put more salt” – “Speed it up” – “Did you put fabric softener?”: unsolicited advice on driving, recipes or how the partner loads the washing machine…
  6. “Don’t feed Giangiacomo out of meals!”-Educational and behavioral issues, as much about children as greyhound…
  7. “Don’t tell me we’re going to your mother’s for lunch again”-“Your sister doesn’t like me”-Snake relatives: when family is a source of worry…
  8. “What if we go camping?” – “I’d rather stay home” – and vice versa – the vacation topic can be very divisive…
  9. “You always do this” – “You never do this or that…” – the boomerang lexicon that turns feedback into criticism.
  10. “You’re the one who doesn’t understand” – “It’s your fault…” – “find the bad guy“: when things don’t go our way, we need someone to blame.

Of these ten territories, the last one, “Find the Bad Guy“, borders two other areas: the “Protest Polka“, and “Freeze and Run“.

Find the Bad Guy“, “The Protest Polka”, and “Freeze and Run” are descriptions of the main negative interaction cycles that Sue Johnson calls “the demon dialogues“.

Demon Dialogue No. 1 – Find the Bad Guy

The first cycle, “Find the Bad Guy,” can include three phases:

  1. pointing the finger at the other – “You can never talk to you…” – “No, you’re the one who doesn’t listen to me!”
  2. lists occasions to support the attribution of responsibility – “The other day, when I was telling you that in the office…” – “What about all the times I tell you about my work?”
  3. Speeds up, accelerates, gets faster and faster in retort, and with each new accusation responds with more reinforcements in confirmation. “It’s you who can’t hear!” – “No, it’s you who have mental problems!”

Demon Dialogue No. 2 – The Protest Polka

The second demon dialogue is the most devious, but also the most common. One partner pursues, protests and accuses, while the other withdraws, stands by, and endures in silence. The partner in the pursuer’s position accuses the other person, who responds by retreating.

  1. One partner is in the position of the pursuer
  2. One partner is in the retreating one.

The accusation may start with a criticism that may seem to refer to something else, such as a specific behavior, preference, or opinion of the partner…

Yet very often it originates from the perception that the other person is distant, emotionally detached. In fact, what leads to closure (i.e., the distance and emotional detachment perceived by the partner in the retreating position), is the hope of bringing serenity back to the couple.

The partner in the pursuer’s position provokes because he or she is in fact trying to get any response, even a negative one, in order to get closer to the other, who is increasingly distant.

Anything as well as not to remain in silence, a silence that smacks of loneliness … of loss of the relationship.

At the same time, those who withdraw also do so for the same reason: to reconnect with their partner in a safer, calmer environment of serenity.

Both suffer, manifesting their pain on different tunings that, however, arise from the same music made by the wounds related to attachment and emotional distance.

The most dangerous aspect of this second demon dialogue is that if unresolved, it can lead to a third territory/cycle: what Sue Johnson has termed “Freeze and Run“.

For when the partner in the pursuer position tunes out the responses of the partner in the withdrawn position, and in turn distances himself, the risk is that the music will stop playing…

Demon Dialogue No. 3 – Freeze and Run

The air is tense. The once mild and very pleasant climate has gradually cooled to even icy. The partners are locked in. They avoid discussions. They stay away from anything that could set off another – yet another – quarrel.

The fear is so great that it drives them both to isolation.

They still live together, but they have almost stopped communicating, each entrenched on their own rock….

How to break the negative cycle?
Recognizing these dynamics, may be the first step in breaking the “negative cycle,” as Sue Johnson calls it.

How? First, by having both partners gain the understanding that there is never just one guilty party, but that they are both “victims.” Indeed, if we really want to put it bluntly, there is no culprit at all, as both partners find themselves trapped in these dialogues precisely in an attempt to interrupt them.

Therefore, they are not only “victims,” but are also co-creators of the dance, and thus can be “allies,” against the common enemy represented by the same dysfunctional cycle (i.e., one of the demon dialogues) that threatens the happiness of both.

And thus to refocus on what lies behind these movements: the need to regain something that was lost long before, and that today they are desperately trying to regain by doing things that unfortunately keep them stuck and stuck exactly where they don’t want to be.

Is that all there is to it? For starters, let’s say that’s already a lot — but that’s just one of seven conversations for change.

Is that all? For starters, let’s say that’s already a lot… But this is just one of seven conversations for change.

  1. Recognizing “Demon Dialogues”
  2. Finding the sensitive points
  3. Reviewing a difficult moment
  4. Engaging and connecting
  5. Forgiving offenses
  6. Bonding through sex and physical contact
  7. Keeping love alive.

But how can I also have these conversations with my partner?

In one of the many HOLD ME TIGHT® WORKSHOPS organized by the Italian community.

Or privately and intimately with a couple’s journey aimed at reconnecting with a therapist trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy

“E.F.T. focuses on creating and strengthening the emotional bond between partners by identifying and transforming the key moments that nurture an adult love relationship: being open, attuned and mutually responsive”.

Sue Johnson