Games Couples Play, Part 3: Blink

By: Ted Harro

Of all the games couples play, the most quiet is Blink. Unlike Fight Club, when both partners amp it up until the room gets super noisy – or Hide and Seek where there’s a lot of chasing – Blink happens when both partners withdraw during a conflict.

Here’s how the game works: the couple has a triggering event. Maybe one of them steps on the other’s toes. Not literally, although that can work, too. The offended partner pulls back. He assumes a poker face, but his eyes are wide open. He’s watching her, wondering if she meant it. He’s sensing the possibility of his tiny little feelings erupting into an overt argument, but for the moment he’s tiptoeing around that live electrical wire. 

Across the table or across the house, she’s on alert, too. She picked up on the subtle signals that he was pulling back. In response, she has one eye on the same power line, sparking away on the floor. The other eye is firmly fixed on him. 

And so they sit. Eyes wide open. Quiet. Each waiting for the other to blink.

This game could go on forever. It’s not very interesting to watch, but it’s a tense game to play.

Beneath the surface, both partners are monitoring the conflict meter, sensing the danger. “I hate how this feels,” he says to himself. “I’m going to keep this calm. Maybe it will blow over.” Though he probably can’t put names on his emotions, he’s feeling scared of how volatile his reactions and the situation seem. He’s trying to protect himself and the relationship by playing it cool. 

“I never get this right,” she thinks, sitting across the room. “Every time we try to have these conversations, they go very badly. I’ll just pull into my own world and wait it out.” You can hear from her internal chatter how sad and hopeless she feels about having a real conversation about the incident.

Ironically, these responses reinforce each other. The more one person holds back, the more careful the other person is. They walk on a whole hen house full of eggshells. As neither of them blinks, a cold descends onto the relationship.

Don’t let the lack of noise during Blink lull you into thinking it’s less dangerous. Nothing kills a relationship like prolonged exposure to the cold.

The Therapist will tell you that few couples start out in this Withdraw-Withdraw pattern. Often, this pattern emerges as a Pursuer starts to get tired of chasing his partner. In that way, it’s a tiny sign of resignation. 

I never liked Blink much as a kid. I like it less now that I know what it does to a marriage.

If you and your spouse have a Withdraw-Withdraw conflict pattern, try this:

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