Why Do Couples Feel Emotional Disconnection?

broken heart walking

Why do we feel emotional disconnection with our spouse or partner? Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy feels that when a couple does not feel emotionally safe with each other, they begin to feel emotional disconnection. She asserts that most fights are really about feeling emotionally disconnected.

Attachment theory suggests that when our loved ones are  unavailable or unresponsive to us this can activate an automatic primal fear response.  When we lose connection with our loved one our alarm bells begin to ring in our brain’s amygdala. Our sense of security feels threatened.  The need for safe, emotional connection is wired into our brains.  How severe this may feel and affect us has to do with if this is a temporary disconnect or one that is an ongoing disconnect that has weakened the couple’s bond.

When we feel disconnected with our loved one, Johnson talks about how this can turn into a “primal panic” in which a couple tends to do either of the following:

  1. Become demanding or clingy trying to get reassurance and comfort from their loved one. The message is “I need you. Be with me.”
  2. Detach and withdraw in a move to protect and comfort ourselves.  The message is “I will protect myself. I won’t let you hurt me. I will stay in control.”

These are unconscious in nature. They may appear to work initially, but will eventually become a loop of insecurity within the couple.

The problem is two-fold in that many times we are not tuned into our partner and secondly we are not always clear about communicating our needs to each other.  When we feel disconnected we may begin to demand and this only creates power struggles and withdrawal by our partner.

As couples feel disconnected for longer periods of time they will find their interactions more and more negative.

There are three major damaging patterns that couples can fall into. Dr. Sue Johnson calls these the “Demon Dialogues”.

  • The Protest Polka – These are called Attack – Withdraw or Demand – Distance.  Another name often used is Pursuer – Distancer.  Both are protesting the disconnection.
  • Find the Bad Guy – Both partners attacking and blaming with self-protection being the theme.
  • Freeze and Flee – The dance is silent with this pattern.  The couple is frozen and in denial. With detachment comes leaving. There is a sense of hopelessness.

These are all about attachment panic. Our emotional safety is at risk. These are automatic patterns to try to reconnect.

I will address in next week’s blog more of Dr. Sue Johnson’s work. I will focus on the special kinds of emotional responses that can help with the “Demon Dialogues” talked about in this week’s blog article.

Source:  HOLD ME TIGHT – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson. Her website is: www.drsuejohnson.com

Check out this video from Dr. Johnson on her introductory ideas on love and attachment.