Our Blue Print: How do we get unstuck? (Part 2)

Every month, I want to share a bit of the "blue print" that I use with individuals, couples, families and helping professionals.

Let’s continue with our example from the last blog post and take some time to dive a little deeper into this pattern.


To recap:  we looked at a couple’s negative pattern and how they get stuck going around and around with the same argument.  One partner feels and thinks and then reacts, and the other partner sees that reaction, feels and thinks and reacts, and thus we go another turn on this merry-go-round.  Or as my husband calls it, the “crazy-go-round.”


So how do we stop?  I want to show you the crux of this pattern and to do so, we have to wade into some vulnerable and possibly uncomfortable territory.


When couples are stuck in this pattern, there are three really significant things happening

  1. Each partner is experiencing some core emotions (i.e. sadness, fear, loneliness, hurt), and
  2. These emotions are ALWAYS in relation to their relationship feeling threatened (i.e. I feel sad because I don’t think my partner cares about me, I feel scared that my partner is so upset with me that she’s going to leave me)
  3.  We refuse to talk to our partner about these core emotions, and so we react in other ways (i.e. If I tell him how sad I am, he won’t understand.  So instead, I’ll just get angry because at least then I feel stronger and can protect myself)


The way out happens when we lean in

Let’s look at how this plays out in our example from the last post:


- Partner 1 (Sarah) does something that bothers or upsets Partner 2 (Tony).

(Sarah reminds Tony that he has to watch the kids this weekend)


- Partner 2 experiences an internal, emotional reaction “underneath the surface” (using our iceberg picture).

(Tony feels alone and incompetent when it comes to parenting, and he doubts that Sarah sees him as an adequate father.)


- Partner 2 is reluctant to share this internal reaction.

(Tony says to himself, “I can’t tell Sarah that because then she’ll really see me as weak and incompetent.”)


- Partner 2 displays an outward, reactive response instead.

(Tony shrugs, says, “Whatever” and walks away)


- Partner 1 sees Partner 2’s response and has an internal, emotional reaction (under the surface, of course).

(Sarah feels unimportant and unheard when it comes to asking for parenting support, and sad to imagine that her husband doesn’t want to help her.)


- Partner 1 is reluctant to share this internal reaction.

(Sarah says to herself, “I can’t share that with Tony because he won’t understand and then I’ll REALLY feel unimportant.”)


- Partner 1 displays an outward, reactive response instead.

(Sarah starts to raise her voice as her reminder now becomes a nagging demand)


This is quite a different pattern now, isn’t it?  Both partners are wanting support and validation and encouragement from one another, but their reactions bring about the completely opposite response from the other partner.


In order to get out of this pattern, we have to lean in to what is uncomfortable and what we would rather not share.  We have to tell our partner about the deeper stuff.


Here are a few questions to help you get started:


When my partner does something that upsets me and our pattern starts:


- What are the core feelings I experience?

- And how do those core feelings relate to the way I feel about our relationship?

- Why do I hold back from sharing the deep stuff?


The way out happens when we lean in.  And if you need someone to walk alongside you in this, please reach out and let me know.


Good things ahead, 


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Alair Olson, M.A.

 Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist



South Mission Valley | San Diego, CA  92108

858.634.0302 | therapy@alairolson.com