The protest polka is a unique pattern between partners that assures emotional detachment and distancing. The repetitive nature of this polka dance reassures partners that their emotional needs will go unmet. Why would this couple continue with this type of communication style when the outcome leaves them empty? Often, it is because the couple is unaware of this pattern and it has become second nature.
Sue Johnson, author of Emotional Focused Couple Therapy (2008), described the Protest Polka Dance as a maladaptive communication pattern that has one partner denying that emotional detachment exists, while the other person withdraws and protests their sense of disconnection. Johnson used the analogy of a partner banging on the door to get their partners attention, as the other person pushes the door shut. Johnson states this is a common snapshot of a couple engaged in the Protest Polka Dance.
When partners do not respond or get their needs met each person can feel humiliated, lonely, and unsafe within the relationship. The constant reaching of a partner towards one that is emotionally unaware, unavailable or denies this dance is even happening will eventually lead to a sense of emotional separation. This couple then becomes desperate and may resort to pushing each other’s emotional buttons and triggering unfavorable emotional reactions. Unfortunately, the emotional distance grows becoming reinforced and cemented.
As a couple’s therapist, the most important place to start is to increase the couple’s awareness not only of the content of their communication, but also the dance itself. The couple needs to understand how their responses or the lack there of, maintains habitual patterns and keeps them trapped. The Polka Protest Dance must stop and focus needs to be on building a bridge of emotional connection. The couple works hard to engage in early response and learn attachment language that generates safety and comfort. The therapist helps slow down these new interactional moments, to assist the couple in noticing their emotional reactions and windows of opportunity for strengthening connections. This is an ongoing process of practice for the couple in sessions and between to reinforce new skills and build confidence in each other.
Will the Polka Dance come up again? Of course it will, but with this emotional formula the Polka Dance looses its dance patterns as the couples emotional attachment gets stronger and stronger. No one is perfect and couples can resort to old behaviors. When that happens couples come in for one or two refresher sessions and any small gap between them is often easily closed and their back to feel emotionally connected again.
Danielle Lambrecht Counseling © 2017 Please engage in any comments.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA