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  • A Relational Dance: The Protest Polka

    In a distressed voice Mary asked Steve:  “how could you forget to pay the auto insurance?”   Steve did not respond, but instead seemed only to gaze off stone-faced into the distance.  Mary felt frustration run through her body as she thought “he couldn’t care less.”  She lashed out verbally “What’s wrong with you, answer me!” Hearing the harshness in her voice Steve thought “I can’t win, she never notices what I get right.” Steve said quietly “what’s the point” and left the room feeling mostly numb to her words….. 

    This brief scenario above is an example of what Dr. Sue Johnson researcher and author of Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, calls the “The Protest Polka.”  This is the most common pattern of relational conflict.  One partner tends to criticize, control, complain and the other tends to defend, get quiet or withdraw.  What couple therapists know is that underneath this destructive dance Steve and Mary are both probably longing to connect and lean into the problem together.  But while they are locked in this pattern the messages they send back and forth become confused and harsh.  They are unable to deal with the challenge at hand together as a couple.   Instead they find themselves as adversaries.   Unfortunately the Protest Polka tends to become a rigid pattern kicking off again and again whatever the triggering issue happens to be.   The Protest Polka gradually undermines trust and erodes connection.

    If you recognize this destructive pattern in your relationship please know that it can be changed.  Research shows that Emotionally Focused Couple therapy is very effective for couples wanting to rid themselves of the Protest Polka for a more emotionally connected dance.   If you notice this negative pattern in your relationship contact, John Gallagher, Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist 407-579-2070 or go to www.holdmetightorlando.com to find out about Mr. Gallagher’s next Hold Me Tight two-day  couples program.