This is an example of what a typical couples negative cycle looks like in action.
Jack and Molly's Story
Jack was betrayed by his wife Molly. She had an affair with his best friend, who was his boss at work. As they try to work through the affair Jack feels unsafe with Molly. He believes he has no security and feels like he's having to guess what's on her mind. Having to guess only creates more uncertainty and fear for Jack.
Jack's primary emotion is fear. How does Jack respond?
Jack responds to this uncertainty by questioning, lecturing, blowing up with anger, and experiencing deep levels of anxiety.
So instead of sharing primary fear with Molly he shares his secondary defensive anger. How does Molly respond?
Molly withdraws when she sees Jack’s pain or when she is reminded of how she betrayed Jack. Talking about the affair is difficult for her to do because many times she doesn’t see it helping or making things better for Jack. Molly sees it as only creating more pain and frustration for him.
She withdrawals when experiencing guilt or when she feels like Jack is disappointed in her. What's really happening under that secondary defense of withdrawal?
When she hears complaints or criticisms of how what she is giving isn’t enough she feels hopeless that the marriage can be restored, so she withdrawals.
What Jack does in response...
This causes Jack to become anxious. Jack starts to wonder if Molly is cheating on him again because she is distant. Jack doesn’t say anything to her for a couple of days and then he blows up when she doesn’t return his phone call right away. Jack attacks sensing that Molly is distant. Jack believes he can’t trust Molly because he needs her love and affection to do so.
What Molly needs...
What she needs is acceptance and to feel like she isn’t a huge disappointment to her him. Feeling wanted and accepted helps Molly feel like her guilt and shame for the affair can be put in the past; as a result Molly feels like she can be there for Jack as a nurturer.
What Jack needs...
Jack needs reassurance that Molly is committed to him and really loves him.
How They Both Get What They Want
One way they both get what they want is by sharing their primary feelings with each other instead of their secondary defenses. When Jack can share his fears and sadness with Molly and lets down his defenses he will be able to draw Molly out of her withdrawn state and she will have an easier time being a support for him throughout the healing process.