Sue Johnson (2008) well-known emotionally focused couples therapist advised that the Freeze and Flee “tango” between a couple, can follow the Protest Polka [see previous article]. As a couple’s therapist, noticing this “tango” usually indicates the couple has shut down on all levels. Most likely this couple has been struggling for years to reconnect and has given up. Johnson states this dance is seen when the couple has both shut down and are frozen in either a defense or denial state (2008). The couple is encapsulated in a self-protection mode denying they want or feel anything for each other (2008). For couples’ therapists, this will be challenging energy to slowly and gently peel through.
The couple may not be fighting as before, but show a politeness that screams coldness. This awkward kindness towards each other is actually an evolving detachment and withdrawal state. The default button for this couple is to deny, detach, and withdraw at all costs. If this maladaptive coping behavior continues this couple can come to believe the problem lies within themselves. The couple can get into a cycle of self-loathing and a rumination of negative core self beliefs. Johnson also points out this cycle of self-hatred is different than the other two demon dialogues (2008).
Fleeing the emotional aspects of the relationship is also a behavior that causes disconnection and distance. When a partner moves from feeling emotions to fleeing into reasoning and logical analysis or distractions it becomes a mechanism of denial. Couples who are distressed can revert to old maladaptive behaviors as a child who is holding on to a parent. Fears of loosing the attachment to a mate can conjure up the same feelings as when a child.
The “dance of distance” is surmised with avoidance of feelings, a sense of giving up, rejection and self-loathing (Johnson, 2008). An Emotionally Focused therapist can break through this “dance of distance” by helping couples understanding their behaviors and uncover how they impact relationships. Behavioral patterns (flee and freeze) need to be broken and a sense of hope instilled, as this couple journey back to re-establishing a bond. The therapist must also uncover negative self-talk, challenge the negative thinking by refuting and assisting the replacement of positive thoughts. The couples need to continue this work of refuting and reinforcing positive statements so the negative cycles do not restart.
The freeze and flee behaviors will stop over time as it is replaced by an emotional bond. The couple will need to continue to work together to be responsive, emotionally attuned, and safely connected. The therapist needs to carefully monitor signs of the freeze and flee pattern and if noticed immediately help the couple engage in exercises of emotionally connected dialogues. As an emotionally focused therapist there is always hope for every relationship as long as the couple is willing to do the work and want the emotional bond back.
I would be happy to engage in comments with you following this article. Thank you kindly.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA