June 1, 2020

5 Things Couples Therapy Can Help With—Part 6: Confusion On How It All Went Wrong

Married couple arguing at couples therapy

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Did you miss a blog in this series? Click here to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

​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.

Couples Therapy

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.

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.

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