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What Is A Relationship Dynamic?

To me, it refers to a predictable pattern of interaction or communication between a couple, or I call it a cycle in my work. Usually, we talk about negative cycles which are self- reinforcing and self- perpetuating patterns of communication which start with a triggering communication or action from one partner and lead to a predicable negative response of anger or shut down from the other partner. This dynamic or cycle ultimately leads to a disconnection between partners.

To change a negative dynamic or cycle to a positive is the goal of couples therapy.

What are some of the easiest ways couples can improve their relationship dynamics?

  • Focus more on what the other person has to say then what you have to say, in other words, listen more then talk.
  • Be willing to be the one to start talking after a disagreement.
  • Be willing to say “I am sorry.”
  • Recognize that when your partner is angry, it really means they are hurt or frightened and are defending themselves, fighting for their own emotional survival, rather than hate you.
  • When your partner is angry, they are actually fighting for the relationship.
  • Show affection by touching, or loving words.
  • Do little things that let them know you are thinking about them.
  • Turn your phone off when talking to your partner.
  • Respond to their email or text quickly.
  • Look them in the eye when you talk to them.
  • Express appreciation and gratitude for what they do and them being in your life.
  • If you see them upset or troubled, make sure ask about what is going on with them.

Why is it important to improve your relationship dynamic?

If you are stuck in negative cycles or self-destructive negative dynamic, your relationship suffers and eventually this can lead emotional and physical disconnect.

Couples will often separate or seek emotional connection elsewhere. Some couples will live in an emotional disconnect for a long time, but this is very unhealthy and leads to depression, anxiety or physical ailments.

One thing for sure, this usually does not get better by itself, you either have to work on it actively on your own or seek professional help.

One common dynamic I see in my practice is where one partner comes to the other saying they would like to talk or discuss something. The other partner immediately expects and braces for a barrage of criticism or attack and shuts down, which while it is a protective move for that partner, communicates to the other partner that they are not interested or don’t care. Typically, this makes the partner who wants to have a conversation get furious. Then, criticism and attack follow, whereby, the shut down partner’s fears are confirmed. This becomes a rigid negative cycle where both partners are stuck.

In therapy, we unpack the cycle and the emotions that are stirred up underneath the anger and shut down so that partners can talk about underlying feelings that lead to the behavior. The partners in the end feel seen, heard and understood which leads to greater connection.

Another pattern that I see often is when discussion gets escalated, one or both partners start to raise their voice. Then the fight becomes about screaming and who is louder. People scream because they want to be heard. Most discussions don’t start with screaming. The volume gets higher because the instinct is that I will be heard, I will get the attention I am craving if I am louder. Of course, usually the opposite happens. The other partner either starts screaming too, questions the screaming or shuts down, making everything worse.

These patterns usually don’t get better without professional help because these cycles are very personal, emotional and not really understood.