Negative Cycle Roles
When partners are able to own their positions and steps each take in a fight, they can then find new ways for facing their distress. The goal of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is to help the couple slow down the patterns to see more clearly the role each plays in the negative dance. Understanding helps the couple to stand together against the isolating power of these negative patterns and find positive ways to work through their differences.
Awareness of Patterns & Roles
When each partner increases his/her awareness of the patterns and roles each takes in the conflicts, they can more quickly step back and see the typical ways in which each partner emotionally detaches from the other. The couple has been “doing” this negative dance of emotionally disconnecting for so long that neither can fully see it, especially when they are in it. It is similar to how a driver with road rage cannot see his/her extreme thinking or actions while in the rage.
Prior to starting couples counseling, neither partner have much awareness of their roles or steps in a fight. One partner usually takes more of a pursuing stance, while the other takes a more withdrawing stance. Nor could either partner describe or label their fighting strategies in which one partner becomes more critical of the other and the other partner becomes more placating and defensive. The more critical or blaming of one partner leads to the other partner defending, shutting down emotionally, or simply “giving in” to placate the other.
Neither Role Is Better Or Worst
In my couples counseling sessions, I try to be very clear that neither of these “dance” patterns or roles is best or worst than the other. The pursuing or withdrawing partner are neither “bad” nor “good” but rather both have very valid reasons for doing what he or she does. An EFT couples counselor will help bring to the surface the reasons, the primary underlying emotions, each partner’s perceptions, and work to decriminalize each partner’s action tendencies.
When each partner better understands why they do what they do and share with the other their underlying vulnerable emotions, it will is easier to empathize rather than escalate. Empathy for the other partner is the key to breaking old negative loops and starting new positive patterns. Once a partner experiences the deeper emotions of pain, sadness, shame, or loneliness of the other partner, it is difficult to stay in anger or judgement.
Negative View of Self
When I explain the roles of pursuer and withdrawer to couples, sometimes one or both can feel shame because they see their role as more negative or hurtful in the relationship than the other. The pursuing partner often views himself/herself as “the mean or bad partner that nags the other and makes fights escalate.” The withdrawing partner can view their withdrawing behaviors as failing the relationship because he/she goes away or shuts down rather than engages. He or she may say, “If I wouldn’t withdraw or shut down, my partner wouldn’t have to pursue me.”
I try to emphasize to both partners in the sessions that they both equally contribute to and sustain the negative cycle. Finding fault in the other or in self is simply another negative loop that never solves anything. If the pursuer didn’t pursue, than there may not be a connection in the relationship. If the withdrawer didn’t withdraw, the conflict may escalate into further destruction and harm. The goal is for both partners to recognize and take responsibility for their own role and steps in the cycle that keeps ending in emotionally disconnecting rather than connecting.
Start Couples Counseling
If you and/or your partner are finding yourselves in a negative loop or cycle that continues to push you both away from each other and it seems to be like groundhog day over and over. It might be time for you to begin couples counseling with an Emotionally Focused Therapist.
As your couples counselor, I will help you both identify your roles in the conflict and discover feelings and emotions that you may not have known existed deeper underneath. I will guide you both to share these deeper emotions with each other to help you connect, rather than disconnect. You will learn new ways to listen and stay attuned to your partner’s emotions and discover effective ways to respond your partner’s needs.
Contact me today to setup a couples counseling session to begin developing a more positive pattern of safely sharing your needs, emotions, and feeling a deeper bond with your partner.