We all know what it feels like to have emotion take over in an argument.
Even trivial ones…
But when it becomes a pattern of emotional disconnection, that is a problem. It simply won’t resolve itself on it’s own.
Before you know it, you are either shouting at each other or shrinking inside yourself every time. But you don’t know why you can’t get through to your partner. You can’t see why such simple things lead to such heated results.
Instead, hurt and resentment is building under the surface. You lose that sense of safety and connection with your partner. And that hurt and resentment builds on a deeper level than what the argument seems to be about. You both feel like you’re hitting an irrational wall with the other person that you just can’t understand why.
If so, you are probably experiencing the Spin Cycle.
When not addressed, it becomes a barrier to connection and intimacy, and you both begin to feel alone and resentful.
And the underlying damage can be hard to see.
It seem like there’s just no getting through to your partner and your frustration rises argument after argument. You think it’s just them.. they’re impossible… they don’t care anymore…
Arguments go nowhere. Mistrust builds. Resentment, isolation, and anger start rising in your relationship.
It starts to show up in unexpected ways such as worrying about your inability to connect, to confide in each other, even to be accepted in your attempts at sexual intimacy.
All humans want to be “fundamentally” heard and validated by their partner. When the deep emotional hurt and longing (or it’s relation fear) is hidden by the Spin Cycle of reactive emotions, both longing and fear fuel the cyclical loop of the Spin Cycle.
Any little argument can become the cause of another hurtful trip around the closed loop of a couple Spin Cycle.
But all is not lost! A couple’s cycle can be slowed to the point where shame and fear can be heard, acknowledged and validated. It this profound affirmation that will eventually reverse a couples Spin Cycle.
By learning what triggers and launches them into their cycle, they can turn every trigger and argument that would launch a Spin Cycle into a bonding moment. Couples can recognize and heal each others pain and hurts.
We’ve been there many, many times, and seen the steady rebuilding of a safe and connected relationship again.
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Take the 5 minute Spin Cycle quiz to identify the Spin Cycle red flags in your relationship and discover how to resolve them.
It’s a far too common pattern in relationships. But the Spin Cycle is a pattern that can be unraveled and resolved.
There are two main types of people in this pattern – the Pursuers and the Withdrawers. Understanding them is the first key to breaking down the barriers to communication they create.
At first, Pursuers attempt to use logic, reason, intellect. When this doesn’t work they turn up the volume. Their tone changes. They become increasingly frustrated. Feeling overwhelmed, they can begin to get truly angry.
In the extreme, temper is lost, rage can emerge. Crying, yelling, sobbing follows.
Sadly, violent behavior may also happen. Dishes can be thrown across the room. Pushing can happen. With all circuits blown they or their partner may strike out.
You’ll hear pursuers saying things like:
“If they would just listen to what I am saying!”
“I am not able to reach him/her!”
Pursuers cannot feel like they get through to their partner end up giving up. They storm off or sulk away.
[Tweet “In the Spin Cycle – You think it’s just them.. they’re impossible… they don’t care anymore…”]
Conversely, those that avoid the expression of emotion, the Withdrawers, retract from confrontation. They pull back.
They start with reason and logic. But as the temperature rises, they are overwhelmed in a different way…
When nothing can be said that makes the pursuing partner back off, Withdrawers shut down, pull away. Their anxious Pursuer partner is left fuming and flummoxed.
[Tweet “Pursuers escalate. Withdrawers shut down, pull away.”]
At times Withdrawers attempt to engage. Just one example of engaging may be the the use of sarcasm. Other defensive mechanisms are employed… to little avail.
Truthfully, the withdrawing partner is also fuming and flummoxed. Not knowing how to respond, how to react, how to protect themselves, they end up just shutting down. Often I will hear them say, “I can’t deal with you, you just got so worked up, speaking with you is next to if not impossible.”
Solving the Toxic Dance
When caught in this spin cycle it can seem like there is very little that either the anxious Pursuer or the avoidant Withdrawer can do to solve this toxic dance. They are unable to effectively regulate their emotion, and nothing they do for themselves or their partner seems to help.
This dance of relationship disconnection comes in many combinations. Pursuer-Withdrawer is the classic, but there is also the very hot Pursuer-Pursuer, the very shutdown Withdrawer-Withdrawer, and the truly vexing “come here, get away.”
No matter the pattern, the inability to know and share emotion begins with a lack of self-awareness. With a little help this toxic dance can begin to be unraveled.
This lack of self-awareness truthfully has its origins in childhood. And in a relationship, this unfortunately translates into relational disaster. But it can be learned… by both of you.
When you can find yourselves recognizing the spin cycle you can begin to address it differently. You can start to realize the part you are playing, and the response your partner is showing. And with the right tools your entire dynamic can change.
Next time you find these signs appearing in your communication, take a moment to take notice. See where you may be becoming the Pursuer or the Withdrawer. And see which your partner is becoming before it escalates beyond repair.
Do you feel trapped in your own “spin cycle?”
Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) can help you and your partner break free. EFT lies at the core of our Hold Me Tight® Seattle Couples Workshops. EFT has been shown to be effective approximately 75% of the time in assisting couples in breaking free from this negative cycle. Effective EFT helps couple produce new interactional cycles that pull for connection and engender relationship satisfaction.
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A short summary of the research on the effectiveness of EFT is available here:
If you want to learn how to unravel these toxic patterns in your relationship, join us for our Hold Me Tight® Seattle workshops.
And we now have special workshops just for Therapists and their partners!
Authored by Joseph Losi, MA-LMFT, Certified EFT Therapist and Facilitator or Hold Me Tight® Seattle.