Marital Therapy-- How to change the pattern

I've mentioned before that people interact in behavioral sequences. . .predictable behavioral patterns. Feedback loops.

That said, Why is it so hard to make each other happy?

Or to put it another way, How hard is it for a couple to break out of a negative pattern if they KNOW the pattern?

The answer is that it is hard for us to look at ourselves objectively. We see the other person's contribution to the problem, but not our own.

Here's the example. Let's make it sexy. Why not.

Joe loves Susan but they've been fighting a long time and he had been holding back a lot of anger about things she said and did early on in the relationship. They're married.

They went to marital therapy and worked through all of that. (YAY)

Now he's ready to be intimate with her, has been for a couple of months. BUT IT'S NOT WORKING. He initiates, she says NO. She initiates, he says NO.

What the heck? What's going on?

Precisely BECAUSE he didn't initiate for so long, she had developed a bit of an attitude. When he talked to her about just about anything, even though they had worked through many issues, she still acted as if she didn't care, as if he didn't matter. Worse, she acted sometimes as if he was an annoyance, a mosquito, a bother. She was acting that way because he didn't initiate sex for so long and she had been rejected MANY times. She was humiliated. His turn.

So when he did try to get amorous, her body language and tone of voice said, Buzz off.

That stopped him from initiating sex. And she had already stopped initiating, for the most part. And when she did, since he was angry at her, he rejected her.

It looked like this initially, before therapy:

She initiated because she loved him→ He rejected her, angry at the things she's said and done → Nothing got resolved → She initiated because she loved him → He rejected her, still angry at the things she'd said and done → Nothing got resolved →She initiated because she loved him → He rejected her, still. . .

See the pattern?

In therapy we resolved the problems. He was ready for a sexual relationship but now SHE acted angry much of the time. Her anger was a defense against getting hurt again. She didn't trust his love. After so much rejection, she wasn't sure. So now it looked like this:

He initiated → She acted like she didn't care→ He withdrew→ Time passed→ He initiated → She acted like she didn't care→ He withdrew→ Time passed→. . .

A simple feedback loop. It doesn't matter where you start in the sequence, it'll start all over again. Once you get it, you can intervene anywhere.

We used two simple interventions to interrupt the feedback loop:

1) When he initiated she was to ask him point blank, "Are you serious? You really want to make love?"

2) He was to say, "With all my heart. I love you."

Then they would hug and take it from there.

So if you can analyze your interactions, who needs therapy, right?

Uh, yeah. Good luck.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Scott said…
I really liked your blogs in regards to self-blame and marital therapy - how to change the pattern.

I come from a disfunctional family abuse and divorce and after some counseling realized that I married my father whom treated my family so badly and cheated on my mother even during her pregnancy of me (the oldest). My mother conceived three other children after that and stayed married through the abuse for almost 18 years.

When my mother asked for the divorce I thought how can I keep my parents together, it's my fault they want a divorce. If I had been a better son there wouldn't be so many problems and everything would be ok.

My wife cheated on me while we dated, engagement, and even after my twin girls were born. I stayed married anyway to keep the "FAMILY" together. She abused me both mentally and physically when she could.

My daughters are 15 now and seem to be doing great. I've broken the pattern and married an "angel" who makes my children and myself so very happy. I met her 7 years before we had our first date. She was such a wonderful devoted wife then and I thought to myself, what a lucky guy. God heard me I guess because her husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore and now she's all mine!

We have been together now for over 7 years and she still lights up a room when she walks in!

Now I feel it's my turn to help others, like yourself, to improve their lives. I will have a website that will be going live in October "Domestic Violence" month! The website will provide a place for support groups like, "Adult Children of Divorced Parents", as well as, any other support group that is ready to help the community.

I would love to have "THE THERAPYDOC" present on the website anytime.
therapydoc said…
Scott, I'm totally flattered and would love to. Just send me a reminder, okay?

You can also copy from this post, but honestly, your story's the best. I'm so glad you found her!
Hi Therapydoc

I have read your blog marital therapy - how to change the pattern. But i believe that marriage counselor identifies the problems very well and finds ways to restore the relationship.