Couples Therapy: The Cycle, A Series

Amanda P. Johnson, MS, LAMFT • [email protected]

In couples therapy one of the first things we always help couples understand is the negative cycle they get caught in. Couples typically have one predominant pattern they get stuck in when arguments or moments of disconnection happen. [Of course there are nuances, differences and it doesn’t happen 100% of the time but there is usually one typical “here we go again” moment.] Here are some really important points to keep in mind when first understanding your cycle:

The cycle can feel like:

  • A familiar stuck place
  • A push/pull
  • One partner wanting to talk, one partner not wanting to talk
  • Attacking/defending
  • Bottling up until it explodes

Here are a couple facts to know about the cycle:

  • The cycle is the problem, NOT your partner
  • It is you and your partner versus the cycle
  • All couples have some sort of cycle
  • The cycle is the way you manage distress and disconnection – this is normal, just not always helpful
  • There is a lot beneath the surface in the cycle

What to do when you notice the cycle: 

  • Notice the cycle: Bring awareness to the moment things start to go sideways between you and your partner.
  • Call out the cycle: Kindly say out load: this is the cycle, this is the moment we get stuck, I notice I am starting to ________________ (attack, get loud, get defensive, want to fix the problem, be quiet, withdrawn, want to go away, drive my point home).
  • Remind your partner we are in this together against the cycle, NOT each other.

The first goal is to start noticing the negative/stuck cycle. The second goal is getting partners on the same team against the cycle.

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