Demon Dance Battles
Dances with demons
No, we’re not talking about actual demons dancing, but there is a demonic aspect to fight choreography, or the patterns and habits we fall into when having conflict with a partner. We want to reframe inevitable conflict as something you can begin working on to change how you act when arguing and recognize some of the habits you have. When you do that, you can start to turn the patterns around and take steps towards solving conflict in a more productive way.
Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight and founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), says there are three main “demon dialogues” that couples tend to fall into when fighting, regardless of what the fight is about. It’s almost like a ballroom dance: the music may change, but the choreography often stays the same.
Types of dances
- Find the Bad Guy, aka The Bad Guy Boogie: Both partners are on the offensive in a futile attempt to pin blame or criticism on the other. Even if this may help one person “win” the fight, it still causes a lot of wounds, and who wants to be the one in the relationship with the “bad guy?”
- The Protest Polka: One partner is focusing their energy in the form of demands, attacks, criticism, or raw pleas. The other partner is withdrawing, or hiding, or numbing to cope with their partner’s disapproval. Listen to episode 227 — Pursuit and Withdrawal for more information about this type of behavior.
- Flight and Freeze Flashdance: Both partners turn away or withdraw, taking their respective attentions away from their partner. There is sometimes very little actual fighting in a relationship where this kind of pattern shows up often, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
To take steps towards breaking your choreography, you first have to recognize it. But once you do, there are a couple methods you can utilize to start changing behavior.
- Meta Communication — “If you can name it, you can tame it”
- Recognize that the shared dance is the first major step.
- Share this information with your partner, preferably not when you’re already in the middle of a fight, and have a conversation about which patterns seem the most familiar.
2. Mapping the choreography. Many therapists who specialize in EFT have worksheets that can assist with this:
- You and your partner sit down separately and make a list of behaviors that you know you do individually that turn your energy towards your partner during conflict, as well as the behaviors that turn it away.
- Both you and your partner will sit down and separately make a list of the behaviors that you do individually that turn your energy and attention towards your partner during conflict, as well as what behaviors turn your energy and attention away from your partner during conflict.
- Identify the most common behaviors and see if you can match them with your partner’s to uncover what your most used choreography or pattern is.
- With your partner, come up with a name for your choreography and an agreed-upon way to let each other know when it is happening, and decide what will happen when one or both of you calls it out.