Find The Bad Guy

I notice that we often have relationships which involve moments we don’t always get quite…“right.” Most of the time we might see fighting in this way, though sometimes, given the individuals in the relationship, not talking could also be an unfortunate outcome as well. I use the infinity loop in sessions with couples to describe the feelings, perceptions, actions, and underlying needs, as well as to show that if not addressed, the fight could just happen over and over again. Also, the beautiful thing (I suppose "beautiful" is dependent on your perspective) about an infinity loop is that there is not a beginning or end. Which is also ironic in the “Find The Bad Guy” dance. When I meet with a couple for the first time, usually at least one (sometimes both) is ready to talk about what it is that is happening in the relationship. In my next three blog posts I am going to tackle one of the three types of the “demon dialogues,” as they are referred to in Emotionally-Focused Therapy, and to distill what is happening in each one. I have chosen to look at “Find the Bad Guy” first, because it is the most visibly volatile of the three “dances” we might do in a relationship. It involves what is known as an “attack-attack” cycle, and can get unpleasant (at best) pretty quickly. I say "visibly volatile" because the other ways we might have our cycles can lead to equally negative outcomes, though they might not be as easy to see. I find that the “Find the Bad Guy” cycle can be characterized by its volatility, given both sides are on the attack. When we get underneath the anger and reveal deeper feelings in therapy, the cycle might change, because feelings like shame or inadequacy become more available in the room. But, what we usually see is anger and the strong desire to place blame. It is almost impossible in this dance to be able to take accountability. But why would you want to, if you know you will be blamed for it and the attacks might not end? Taking responsibility is actually a vulnerable position to be in when we are in the “Find the Bad Guy” dance, and that’s one reason it becomes so challenging to break. A common experience I have with clients is a description of how the other person’s behavior makes them feel, which is usually upset (sometimes not explicitly said as a “behavior” but done on a more personal level, for which I would likely help to make the nuanced, but important, correction). But because of the heated nature of either the fight, or the relationship as a whole, it is impossible to open up about hurt, and instead the person might lash back with anger in return, blaming his or her partner equally. This can continue, and usually leads into the second kind of dance we might do with our partners if left untreated. The next question is almost uniformly, "How Do I Get Out of This Dance?" Like most fights we are in, our defenses are up and we don’t feel a sense of security with our partner to let them down to be vulnerable. Until we can do that, we’ll keep dancing.