Creating Emotional Safety | Marriage Counseling

Couples that desire to have connection must learn to de-escalate marital conflict and create moments of emotional safety. To do this, both partners need to work together to restrict their negative dialogues and reduce their underlying insecurities.

Every relationship will have arguments and disagreements but they can learn how to avoid falling into anxious demands or numbing withdrawal. They both can learn how to repair splits in their marriage and create a deep loving bond.

Moments Of Emotional Disconnection

In working with couples, I teach them how to take charge of moments of emotional disconnection and turn away from damaging hurtful escalation. In the marriage counseling sessions, I ask couples to share a recent conflict and to slow down the action and identify the moments that the event began to spiral into a disconnection. In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, it provide couples with steps that can set them on the path to a healthy cycle. Here are the steps for changing the negative cycle:

Step One: Stopping The Game

The first step is Stopping the Game. This is to stop the attack and defend loop: “who is right, who is wrong; who is victim, who is villain.” I ask one of the partners to step up and request a stopping of the dance, “Can we stop this argument? We are both being defeated by this spiral.” The other partner is to agree to stop the attack and defend cycle.

Step Two: Claim Your Own Moves

The second step is to claim your own moves. Rather than focusing on your partner’s negative aspects in a fight, each partner identifies his or her own moves. “I began this conflict by criticizing you and becoming angry.” The other might share: “Yes and I got defensive and I attacked back.” Then the other partner owns that his/her anger escalated and so did the criticisms. Together, they produce a short summary of their dance steps. The goal is for both partners is to own and take responsibility of his or her own part in the demon dialogue.

Step Three: Claim Your Own Feelings

The third step is to claim your own feelings. Rather than continuing in the blame game, each partner shares his/her own feelings. The wife might share, “I became very angry.” The husband may respond with “I became defensive and my internal emotions consisted of fear and anger.” In sharing their emotions, they are beginning to become more accessible to their partner.

Step Four: Owning How You Shame Your Partner’s Feelings

The fourth step is owning how you shape your partner’s feelings. Susan Johnson writes, “We need to recognize how our usual ways of dealing with our emotions pull our partner off balance and turn on deeper attachment fears. If we are connected, my feelings naturally will affect yours. But seeing the impact we have on our loved ones can be very difficult in the moment when we are caught up in our emotions, especially if fear is narrowing the lens.”

For example, a husband may not have understood how much his statement, “If I can’t meet your needs, maybe we should just quit” impacts his wife’s fear of being abandoned. The partners can talk safely with each other about previous statement’s and how those statements negatively affected their feelings.

Step Five: Asking About Your Partner’s Deeper Emotions

The fifth step is asking about your partner’s deeper emotions. In the couple’s counseling sessions, slowing down the conflicts helps both look at the big picture and create deeper understanding about the other partner’s underlying emotions rather than just focusing on their own hurts and fears and thinking the worst about their spouse. What an awesome experience when they are able to look underneath the anger and acknowledged that their partner is hurting.

Step Six: Sharing Your Own Deeper Softer Emotions

The sixth step is sharing your own deeper softer emotions. Susan Johnson writes, “Although voicing your deepest emotions, sometimes sadness and shame, but most often attachment fears, may be the most difficult step for you, it is also the most rewarding. It lets your partner see what’s really at stake with you when you argue.” It is so easy for couples to miss the underlying attachment needs and fears in the conflicts. I find it so helpful for couples to unpack moments of disconnection and explore their feelings and to risk sharing with their partner.

Step Seven: Standing Together

The seventh step: standing together, puts the first six steps into action and creates a renewed partnership in restoring their relationship. They find common ground and common purpose. The partners view each other on the same team rather than enemies. They have a new confidence that they can deal with disagreements and face their insecurities together.

Susan Johnson writes, “They are aware of two crucial element of de-escalation: first, that how a partner responds at a key moment of conflict and disconnection can be deeply painful and threatening to the other; and second, that a partner’s negative reactions can be desperate attempts to deal with attachment fears.”

De-Escalate Marital Conflicts

When couples are willing to own their side of the negative dance in conflicts, then they can practice taking new steps for preparation of future heated disagreements. They will develop a sense of entering shaky ground and develop a new ability to take charge of moments of disconnection and de-escalate to insure both partners feel safe and able to connect.