Have you ever wondered how couples go from being head over heels in love with each other to being so unhappy with their relationship , that they end up with a breakup? Is it because they made a huge mistake starting a relationship together in the first place or the idea that “true long-lasting love” is in fact a myth? 

According to Dr. Susan Johnson, the developer of emotionally focused couples therapy, believs that certain toxic interaction cycles are to blame for serious problems in romantic relationships. These “demon dialogues”, as she calls them, are negative and rigid relational patterns that occur at times when we feel insecure in our relationship. When these demons take over, they not only leave both partners upset, lonely, and defeated in the short run, but they also gradually damage the emotional bond between partners in the long run. Can you recognise which of the three demons listed below prevail in your relationship at times of distress?

  • Find the bad guy: In this demon dialogue, all we can observe between partners is constant mutual attack and self-defence. The arguments are usually quite heated, and voices are raised. The fact that our partner criticises us makes us want to criticize them more. Yet, we overlook the fact that we can never truly win such a battle because if we win, it means that our beloved partner is a bad person!
  • The protest polka: In this most common demon dialogue found in relationships, the salient pattern is one partner chasing and the other partner withdrawing. The partner who feels the disconnection first protests it by demanding something from or criticising the other, only to face an even larger disconnect due to the other partner shutting down because of not knowing how to handle the situation effectively. It is not difficult to imagine how such a dynamic will create a toxic vicious cycle.  
  • Flight and freeze: In this demon dialogue that usually occurs after the couple struggles with the other demons for a while, both partners basically give up on their relationship. They do their best to avoid conflict because they are no longer able to take it. While the absence of heated arguments may seem like a good thing on the surface, the lack of a secure emotional bond between partners seriously threatens the future of the relationship. 

It is normal if these demons show up in your relationship from time to time. However, it is a good idea to act against them if you feel like one or more of these demons have started to take over your relationship. The reason is quite clear: when we remain stuck in the rigid patterns that these demons draw us into, we put our relationship at a huge risk. The good news is that with mutual effort and dedication, it is possible to free our relationship from the demon trap. We will explore the strategies derived from emotionally focused couples therapy on how to fight against the demons between you and your partner in Part 2. 

Dilek Demiray is an intern at Willingness. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and she is currently completing her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. As an aspiring psychotherapist, she is interested in cognitive-behavioural and systemic therapies.  

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Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown Spark.