September 25, 2019 - What a week for our nation. Energetic polarization. A catalyst sparks. Change is in the air. Individuals and parties move to extreme and radical sides of the issue, mainly by declaring the other side wrong.


Individuals do this, groups do this, political parties do this. When we polarize ideologies become so dug into the terra firma of your own positions that to accept any of the opposition is almost impossible to do. 


This is a default pattern for all humans and most creatures. I often see this pattern in my office with couples. Polarization can happen subtly as a way of rebalancing the other person. “My husband is so Pollyanna I just have to point out the problems that surround us.” “My wife limits herself by only looking at the problems in life and misses all of the daises.” Polarization can happen instantly. The current frustration suddenly becomes a fight of opposition. “You sit there while I do all of the work around here!” “You don’t know how to relax. You are always working. You’ve got no time for me or anyone else.”


This is our default. When this happens communication stops. Words are said with many of the sentences starting with “You”. No one is listening or interested in hearing the other person’s ideas. It’s not about solving the problem; it’s about blame and defense. This pattern emerges occasionally at first, usually with great makeup sex! The pattern can then become more frequent because the problems are really not being solved. Great sex but the problem continues. Slowly the couple engagement becomes a lockdown with full connection blocked. Communication becomes limited to who picks up the kids and when we are scheduled for our next event.


What fuels this pattern is not feeling heard. No one is listening to understand my ideas, which are different than their own.  Rather than reasoning through an issue we are simply defending our own view. And many times, with all of the “you statements” floating around we are actually defending who we are to the person we love and want to be loved by. Talk about combustible context! “No I am NOT like my mother and you better never say that again! By the way you do a great version of your father!” “Easy for you to say. Anyone would respond like my father when they are dealing with the behaviors like your mother.” Round and round it goes, so repetitive the couple even knows what comes next.


Default pattern is not our only option. These simple steps will shift the confrontation towards a conversation and closer to resolution.


  1. Repeat back what your partner is saying. Show your partner you hear them by paraphrasing their ideas. Once someone feels heard emotions shift.
  2. Stay grounded in the moment. Don’t let fight or flight  chemicals take over your thinking. Slow breaths. Ask for a moment to calm down. Realize that defense is not the only option to attack.
  3. Remember this is someone you love. Accept the assumption that they love you as well. Create a context for resolution rather than combat.


While this pattern exists in all relationships, if it has become frequent and you have tried the steps listed above, seek professional help before “lockdown” sets in. Gain some skills in relationship problem solving. Find a relationship coach to get you back on healthier patterns for relationship wealth.


Sheila Spain PhD, RN, LMFT

Beaverton, OR



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