Recognizing the Demon Dialogues: Find the Bad Guy

Posted on March 30, 2012


When couples become distressed, it is no surprise that the tendency is to blame one’s partner for the problem.  In therapy we find that the problem does not generally lie with the individuals nor with a fundamental flaw in the relationship.  Distressed couples are not so much broken as stuck.  In marriage, negative cycles can beset the relationship.  The partner interactions become a kind of dance where the movements of one partner provoke the movements of the other partner and unwittingly perpetuate the negative cycle.

Johnson (2008) refers to the negative cycles as The Demon Dialogues.  The first of Johnson’s demon dialogues is “Find the Bad Guy” (aka “It’s not me; it’s you).  Find the Bad Guy is about self protection and is characterized by mutual attack or blame.  It is easy for a partner to recognize how his or her partner’s comments or actions are hurtful, devaluing, or abandoning.  It is more difficult to recognize that one’s partner’s actions are part of a negative pattern or dance in the relationship and harder still to recognize one’s own part in the dance.  As the negative pattern takes over the relationship, it becomes more difficult for partners to stay emotionally engaged.  The accumulation of hurts from the negative cycle create an environment where it no longer feels safe to be vulnerable and connect.  A partner begins to appear as (emotionally) dangerous (i.e. the bad guy).  Almost inevitably, when one feels attacked by their partner, they will attack back.  “The secret to stopping the dance is to recognize that no one has to be the bad guy.  The accuse/accuse pattern itself is the villain here, and the partners are the victims” (Johnson, 2008, p. 70).

Recognizing the negative pattern is the first step in escaping this demon dialogue.  A couples begin to recognize that their partner is not the enemy, but rather that they have a common enemy in the negative cycle they can begin to avoid or defuse the demon dialogue.  The relationship can begin to become safe again.  A partner can be seen as hurting and in need of affirmation and comfort, and not just as a dangerous adversary.   It then becomes easier to express needs for connection and comfort.

Next: Demon Dialogue #2 – The Protest Polka


Hold Me Tight: a 2 day couples intensive.  Strengthen your marriage with practical teaching, interactive discussions and couple’s exercises in a safe and supportive setting.  The focus is on deepening connection and closeness, repairing and healing relational injuries, and overcoming distance and disconnection.


Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church

17010 Pomerado Rd.

San Diego, CA 92128

Dates & Times:

Saturday, May 5th, 2012, 9:00am – 5:30pm

Saturday, May 12th, 2012, 9:00am – 5:30pm



Treina Nash, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, RCA Counseling

Scott Wood, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, LifeSpring Center

*Online registration is available at or contact Scott Wood at (858) 449-1835 for phone registration or questions.


Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).