De-Escalating the Protest Polka

July 01, 2009

De-Escalating the Protest Polka 

 Competency # 22 Social Wellness and Friendships                  Reference: Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love 

 The Protest Polka is one of Sue Johnson’s “Demon Dialogues”.   It goes like this:  “You are working too hard”  (a protest).   “But, I’ve got this big assignment….” (a defensive reply).  And you are off to the races, polkaing together as you argue.  What we learned last week was that a Demon Dialogue is really a cry for attention in which neither hears the other’s attachment needs, loneliness, and fears.  

What we really want from our partners is soothing attention and reassurance that we matter.  How do we get to that when we are frantically dancing the Polka?  How do we stop the insane Protest Polka and start down a new path to loving intimacy? You have to De-Escalate.  

Here are Sue Johnson’s Seven Steps in great brevity.  These are the crib notes to tempt you to read more.  When you find yourself in the Polka: 

 1.  Stop the Dance.  Someone needs to say, “Stop!”.  Instead of “You always do….” statements, start with “We” statements.  You are both trapped in it.   “We…” 

 2.  Claim your own moves, your own dance steps.  Each person has to name their own behavior.  “I did this….” Was it an attack?  Or was it a defensive reply?  Neither is right because both just add flame to the fire.  Claim your part with an “I”. 

 3.  Claim your FEELINGS.  “I’m mad!” Both of you express your feelings about what you feel when you get in the give and take.  You become more human. 

 4.   Own how your behavior shapes your partner’s feelings.  “When I do this, I put you off balance and make you feel abandoned.”  That’s ALWAYS true because our Demon Dialogues are always about attachment and intimacy.  We are babies crying, with adult clothes on.  Attachment feelings are that primal. 

 5.  Ask your partner about their deeper feelings.  “I hear you.  When you get mad, it’s really because you want my attention and my time.  You don’t want to think of being alone and abandoned.”  Simple as it sounds, it works every time. 

 6.  Share your own Softer Feelings.  Let your partner know that you are afraid, ashamed, angry.  That’s why you responded how you did….  Take the risk of confessing how you feel inside and really don’t want your partner to feel left out.  Your own struggle reveals your desire for relationship too. 

 7.   Stand Together.  Now you are on the same side of the table and working on a common problem.  You become a couple.  You see the Polka as the problem.  You are in the dance because you are bonded and attached.  You each own a bit of the other’s soul.  And that’s what it is all about.  

Now, start the new story of how you are fixing your relationship so it doesn’t get all mucked up with the craziness of the dance. 

 WWW:  What will work for me.  It isn’t just your spouse.  You have precious attachments in your life with friends and family too.  Your ears will become expert and your love relationships will grow.  I promise.  Read the book!

The column was written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI (262-784-5300)