They tend to criticize, blame, get defensive, get angry or frustrated (Fight response)
Or they tend to avoid, run away, or stone wall. (Flight/freeze)
Or they tend to take turns at doing the above. (Fight or flight)
It’s a viscous cycle.
The moral of the story is help our patients connect when they feel disconnected, AND not fight or flight.
So why do people still do this once they are aware?
Feelings. Feelings of loneliness, disconnection leading to fear and anxiety along with other fear and anxiety, leading to anger, sadness, frustration, resentment of now and the past, and now we have a messy “emotional soup”.
Awareness is not enough for change for many as folks are not completely “rational”.
For some folks, when feeling disconnected, they lash out, criticize, blame as a bid for connection instead of trying to reconnect. This is quite normal for “passionate” personalities.
The other then freaks out at that “lashing out”. Of course, they don’t see it as a bid for connection. They see it as .... Oh my God, my partner hates me. I can’t make them happy. Nothing I do is right and then they get defensive, flee, avoid, or stone wall.
That is of course another bid for connection but the other will see the avoidance and “fleeing” as .. See, you don’t care.
The misunderstanding/pattern continues.
This pattern works “okay“ in a parent child relationship but tends not to work very well in adult adult relationship. Hence we need to learn a new pattern.
In Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), we try and learn a new pattern of acknowledgement and reconnection. One has to “soften” and the other one has to be courageous and reengage. Mindsets need to shift as well from a “What about me”/transactional mindset to a “I care about you no matter what so tell me more so that I can understand”. Many roads to get there and difficult because changing beliefs and habits are difficult, but like they say.... Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.
Reference: Gottman Institute and EFT/Emotionally Focused Therapy