Several common interactional patterns which couples use to solve relationship challenges often yield disappointing and frustrating results. In the “distancing and pursuing” pattern, one person wants more connection and moves toward their partner (initiates sex, starts an argument, criticizes them). The partner does not desire the same intensity or intimacy and moves away, which unsettles the partner who wanted more closeness. You can see how the cycle can continue. It is interesting to note that either partner may change this dance by modifying their behavior. The pursuing partner can find other ways to express his desire for more connection. The distancing partner can find other ways to express his desire for space.
Conflict avoidance is another common pattern. As the couple forms a relationship that is profoundly important to both of them they may unwittingly fall into the habit of sidestepping conflict, fearing that having conflict could threaten the relationship. This pattern of collusion in not addressing differences directly ensures the partners will not experience the discomfort of addressing conflicts. The downside is that the conflicts don’t go away, but get swept under the carpet.
Without workable ways of resolving conflict, small differences and disappointments can build up over the years, resulting in increasing emotional distance between the partners. I believe more divorces result from avoiding conflict in this habitual way than from having arguments and disagreements. Any two adults in close proximity will have conflicts. What matters is whether they have the skills and the commitment to work towards resolutions that satisfy both of them.
Clarifying the patterns and behavior in your relationship that are dysfunctional is hard work. Since each partner has contributed his share in creating the reality of the relationship, it is important for each partner to take responsibility for co-creating the new, more desirable and functional reality.
Some years ago I was working with a couple in my office, and the wife told me of her frustration: “You are unfairly blaming both of us equally!”
Well. I wasn’t blaming either of them, but I heard her expression of the difficulty of the work. We want the other person to change, to step up and make things better. We want them to be more trustworthy before we offer our trust. We want them to prove their reliability before we depend upon them. And on it goes, unless both partners want relationship change badly enough to dig deep and work together for change
What kind of dance are you having with your partner? Are you tiptoeing around old habits and patterns that no longer work? What kind of dance would you rather have?