How do I prevent a relationship going sour?

(Johnson, 2011) (Alasko, 2014)

When a relationship is in free fall, men typcally talk of feeling rejected, inadequate, and a failure; women of feeling abandoned and unconnected. Women do appear to have one additional response that emerges when they are distressed. Researchers call it “tend and befriend.” Perhaps because they have more oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, in their blood, women reach out more to others when they feel a lack of connection.

When safe connection seems lost, partners go into fight-or-flight mode. They blame and get aggressive to get a response, any response, or they close down and try not to care. Both are terrified; they are just dealing with it differently. Trouble is, once they start this blame-distance loop, it confirms all their fears and adds to their sense of isolation. Emotional edicts as old as time dictate this dance; rational skills don’t change it. Most of the blaming in these dialogues is a desperate attachment cry, a protest against disconnection (Johnson, 2011) Using blame is always destructive because it’s actually made up of four toxic behaviours—criticism, accusation, punishment and humiliation—that only create anger, anxiety and distrust (Alasko, 2014)

Relationship Warning Signs

(Benson, 2005)

    Examples You Partner
Scoring Points      
Thinking the Worst      
Opting Out      
Putting Down      

Universal Raw Spots

  • Deprived: Emotional starvation
  • Deserted: Abandoned / Rejected and not valued

Hurt is the:

  • Fear of rejection / abandonment
  • Sadness and loss
  • Shame – fears about oneself being unworthy.

Stages of Breakdown

Unhappy couples follow a certain spiral of interactions emotions and attitudes that leads to the disintegration of their marriages (Gottman, et al., 2015)

Criticism Contempt Defensiveness Stonewalling
Not Complaining or negative remarks on personality or character Intending psychological or physical injury on the other
  • Not listening
  • Making Excuses
  • Denying Responsibility
  • Shutting Down
  • Disassociating
    (Male Avoidant)

Common Relationship Nuclear Weapons

(Covey, 2004)

  1. Condemning
  2. Belittling
  3. Comparing
  4. Labelling
  5. Insulting
  6. Condescending
  7. Sarcasm

3 Demon Dialogues 

(Johnson, 2011)

  1. Find the Bad Guy, This dead-end pattern of mutual blame keeps a couple miles apart. Both partners define the other as uncaring or somehow defective.
  2.  Protest Polka, This is the demand-withdraw pattern that leads to divorce. “The more he refuses to talk to me or dismisses my feelings, the angrier I get and the more I poke him – anything to get a response”. “The more I hear that angry tone in her voice, the more I just hear that I can never please her, so I get hopeless and more silent. They are both asking ‘Are you there for me? – and the other’s behaviour confirms it.
  3.  Freeze and flee, Both partners feel hopeless. No-one is reaching out, or taking risks.

In these dialogues each ask “Is there any hope for us?”

Recovery of relationship

(Marshall, 2007)

  • What is love?
  • Where are you going on the relationship?
  • Recognise the patterns
Find the Raw Spots
  • Look at the triggers and reactions to solve problems
Speak the same Language
  • Share core needs
  • Agree the way to deal with conflict
  • Agree to try out the techniques
  • Accept we are flawed and can fail
Take Responsibility
  • Own the Identity of the relationship
  • For the relationship
  • Bond through intimacy
Keep the love alive
  • Look to help each other grow
  • Remove the nuclear weapons from the armoury