We all know what it feels like to have emotion take over. We or our partner becomes too assertive, or conversely withdrawn. We have just entered the “spin cycle.”
In the “spin cycle,” pursuers ramp up their efforts. At first they attempt to use logic, reason, intellect. When this doesn’t work they turn up the volume. Their tone changes. They become increasingly frustrated. Become 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. For the majority of couples caught in “spin cycles,” violent behavior is the sad result of emotion and behavior run amok, and not a more pernicious pattern of domination and control.
Conversely, those that avoid the expression of emotion retract from confrontation. They pull back. They too are overwhelmed. Nothing can be said that makes the pursuing partner back off. Withdrawers shut down, pull away, leaving their anxious pursuing partner fuming and flummoxed. At times withdrawers attempt to engage. Just one example of engaging may be the the use of sarcasm. Other defensive mechanisms are employed. Non-effectively. Truthfully, the withdrawing partner is also fuming and flummoxed. Not knowing how to respond, how to react, how to protect themselves they then shut 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. ” Pursuers offer, “If they would just listen to what I am saying!” “I am not able to reach him/her!” Pursuers unable to effect connection or understanding give-up. They storm off or sulk away.
When caught in this spin cycle, and unable to effectively regulate their emotion, there is very little that either the anxious pursuer or the avoidant withdrawer can do for themselves or their partner that effectively solves this toxic dance.
Pursue-withdraw is the classic dance of relationship disconnection. Different, more complex, dance cycles exist. The very hot pursue-pursue, or the very shutdown withdraw-withdraw, or 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. A lack which truthfully has its origins in childhood. In relationship this lack unfortunately translates into relational diaster.
Do you feel trapped in your own “spin cycle?” Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) can help you and your partner break free. It 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.
A short summary of the effectiveness of EFT is available here: