Relationship patterns

This article will consider the communication patterns that couples may find themselves falling into. These patterns are not helpful and can have a detrimental impact on the couple's relationship as well as causing mental anguish for them as individuals. Understanding these patterns of communication can be useful for couples as it allows you to make changes and improve your relationship. 

The following examples of communication patterns come from Sue Johnson's book Hold Me Tight. A fundamental element is that healthy couples feel connected and securely attached to one another. It is when couples begin to feel disconnected that they fall into some communication issues in an attempt to reconnect with each other - what these dialogues actually do however is push them further apart. 

Communication patterns

The following communication patterns may be helpful for you to understand if you are struggling to communicate and connect with your partner:

1. Find the bad guy
As the name suggests, in this communication pattern, the couples are always blaming each other for why they are not connecting in their relationship. This blame comes from a place of vulnerability as the disconnection they are experiencing is leading to them feeling distrustful - when we take responsibility for our actions, we have to trust that the other person is going to treat us fairly and with kindness.

If a couple is disconnected and distrustful then they are not going to be able to take responsibility and therefore it becomes easier to blame each other for their problems. This communication pattern is a vicious circle however as the more they blame each other the more disconnected they feel.

2. Protest polka
In this communication pattern, one half of the couple will be feeling sensitive to the disconnection and so will be trying to grab the other person's attention in any way they can - they become the 'pursuer'. The other person becomes the 'withdrawer' as they are experiencing this attention seeking as nagging or criticism. They feel a sense of failure and inadequacy from the 'nagging or criticism' which leads to them withdrawing.

3. Freeze and flee
This communication pattern tends to be a natural progression from protest polka. Both people have withdrawn themselves - the 'pursuer' steps away, feeling rejected and wanting to protect themselves from further hurt, whereas the 'withdrawer', whilst enjoying the peace, feel like they need to continue to withdraw to protect themselves in case the criticism returns from their partner. In this communication pattern, the couple have disconnected from one another entirely.

How to restore your connection

Understanding these patterns, or versions of these patterns, in your own relationship is useful in changing them. If you can understand why you are being the way you're being (e.g. understanding that it is the feeling of disconnection that is causing your behaviour) then you can begin to explore this with your partner and find ways of changing how you're both behaving. Re-establishing connection is vital and how you do that will vary depending on you as a couple. Here are a few suggestions of things you could do: 

  • Make time for each other; this sounds obvious but life so often gets in the way and it can be easy to stop spending time with one another. It may be that you need to sacrifice something to make time for it, but even doing this once a month will be useful. Find something you both enjoy doing and spend time doing it together. 
  • Actively listen to each other; this involves you putting away all distractions and focusing entirely on what your partner has to say. It requires you both responding to and being interested in each other's point of view - ask each other about your day and actually listen to the answer!
  • Honesty; sometimes honest can be difficult as it makes us feel vulnerable. Being honest with each other though is important in feeling connected.  
  • Couples counselling; counselling can offer you a space to focus on your relationship and explore what has led to you feeling disconnected. It's also a safe space for you to practice active listening and honesty. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Dunston, Stafford, Staffordshire, ST18 9AB
Written by Verity Smith, MSc Registered MBACP
Dunston, Stafford, Staffordshire, ST18 9AB

Verity Smith is a Psychotherapist at Orenna in Stafford. She has extensive post graduate training in Psychotherapeutic Counselling and Clinical Psychology. Her specialisms include; bereavement, pre and post natal depression and adolescent counselling and psychotherapy.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Relationship problems

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals