Name Your Pattern

By: Ted Harro

Our neighbor just got a puppy. Or to be precise, the 12-year-old boy in their house got a puppy which means the parents now have a dog to take care of, too. I met the puppy this morning. “His name is Ace,” my friend said. “Our 12-year-old named him.”

The Therapist is allergic to dogs, so I have to content myself with having sourdough starter as my pet. During quarantine, I decided to treat the starter like a pet. I fed it every day. I changed its water. I decided to name it “Bubbles,” since it gets all bubbly after about 10 hours on the counter.

Though she can’t have furry pets, The Therapist is currently on a monarch butterfly kick. She found a caterpillar chomping on milkweed she had planted behind our garage in hopes of attracting butterflies. She put it in a habitat – really a fancy name for a cage – and named him/her “Buddy.”

Humans love naming things. We do it instinctively. In fact, naming creation was one of the first jobs God gave humans in the creation account in Genesis. 

It turns out that we can put this naming impulse to use to counteract the negative patterns in our marriages. The Therapist uses this trick all of the time with her clients. 

Here’s how it goes: Start by identifying which pattern you fall into when you’re out of sync. The good news is that there are only three – Pursue-Pursue, Pursue-Withdraw, and Withdraw-Withdraw. If you’re not sure which pattern you use, odds are that you do Pursue-Withdraw since The Therapist says that 98.36% of the clients she sees have this pattern. Approximately.

Then, notice how you feel when you’re in this pattern. Maybe even draw a terrible picture of how it feels. That might help you find a name for your version of the pattern.

Wanna ride? Maybe not.

For instance, one of The Therapist’s clients calls their conflict pattern The Rollercoaster. I wasn’t in the session, but I’m guessing they call it this because it has a lot of ups and downs. And maybe it makes them want to throw up. Anyway, they know when The Rollercoaster is getting fired up. They can feel it in their emotions and in their bodies.

This helps because they can talk about the pattern instead of talking about each other. Apparently as a recent conversation started to get testy, the husband looked at his wife and said, “We’re about to get on The Rollercoaster again. How about if we just skip it this time?”

It was a lighthearted way of noticing the negative pattern as it got started, catching it, and avoiding escalation. And it helped them gang up on the pattern instead of turning on each other.

So, try this:

  • Notice your normal conflict pattern when you get out of sync. If you’re not sure which one you use, we’ve described them here, here, and here.
  • Remember what it’s like when you’re in that pattern. What does it feel like? If it helps to draw a horrible picture, go for it. For bonus points, submit your picture to us. You will automatically raise the artistic standards of this blog.
  • Name your pattern. 
  • Start to notice when the pattern is firing up. See if you can call it out together before it gets out of control as a way to gang up on the pattern.

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