Looking at Patterns can Save your Relationship: Protest Polka Pattern
Last time I wrote about the first Demon Dialogue—Find the Bad Guy. In this pattern, partners get caught up in attacking, blaming, defending, and trying to “proof” how it is the other partner’s fault (My favorite is when they defend defending themselves!). In any case, this pattern shows up in a loud way, but I have also seen couples who can do the Find the Bad Guy dance in a very calm, yet pointed way.
The next pattern or dialogue that keeps couples stuck is called Protest Polka.
This pattern shows up in a little bit more subtle way. Why is it called “Protest”? Because usually, one partner demands something—protesting the fact that they are feeling distant and disconnected—and the other one is withdrawing—protesting implied criticism.
Interestingly, Protest Polka is that type of a pattern that usually goes on for a while, and with time and depending on the couple, it can turn into Find the Bad Guy or Freeze and Flee pattern (we will talk about that one next time).
The example of a Protest Polka pattern might look like this: “He is never home, and he never helps out” and “She is just never happy with me.”
One partner is hammering on the door saying, “I feel separate, I miss you, come close” and the other partner is holding the door firmly shut saying “I see your anger, criticism, go a way!”
One partner either “pushes, pulls, attacks, criticizes, complains, blows up, yells, manages” and the other one “moves away, shuts down, gets paralyzed, pushes the feelings away, hides, gets logical, fixes things.”
What the demanding/protesting partner usually sees is lack of emotional response. What the withdrawing partner usually sees is criticism, judgment, upset.
When a partner is seeking emotional response and the other partner provides logical or intellectual response that usually equals “no response.” For example, if I had a hard day at work and I need my husband’s emotional response/support around that, and he goes into how I should do A and B and C different so that I can make work days easier, my brain will register that as “no response.” If I consistently get “no response” I might start worrying about our relationship, and if I am caught up in the Protest Polka cycle I will PROTEST feeling distant from him.
Sue explained that “people want indirect support, that is, emotional confirmation and caring from their partner, rather than advise.” Now, how many times have you heard from your male spouse that he doesn’t know how to be empathetic and responsive that way? Well, we know that male partners do know how to be caring and responsive (they are often that way with children or animals), BUT they have to first feel safe. Once they feel safe and they engage with their wives that engagement becomes the solution and the pattern quiets down.
Johnson said that the scary thing about these patterns is that they become our defaults…”these steps are like breathing” and we don’t even know that we are taking them. Unless couples become very clear about these patterns it is hard to move forward. Remember that there is really no true start to these patterns. Partners are the victims and the pattern is the villain.