Conflict in relationships can often take on a life of its own. These conflicts can become perpetual negative patterns that reinforce the next conflict and the next.
Couples may begin with playful teasing and it escalates to full blown ruptures in the relationship. So how can couples face and interrupt these negative dance patterns in their relationship?
Ways to Exit Conflict
A couple that is more aware of their destructive patterns, is better able to work as a team to find ways to exit a conflict before their fight becomes destructive. Finding ways to exit a destructive negative cycle is vital to saving the relationship.
Viewing the negative cycle as the ‘enemy’ rather than the partner is a crucial step in finding a way out of the hurtful dance. If a couple can see the pattern that sucks them in, they can work together to find ways out.
“We Are In Our Cycle!”
In my couples counseling sessions, I work with both partners to identify their fighting styles and go-to positions in the cycle to better catch the pattern as it begins to take hold. The partners can then use this awareness to slow down the escalation by calling out the pattern and facing it as a team.
In the counseling session, we let the negative cycle come into the present moment, become more aware of what’s happening in both partner’s bodies, and paying attention to their primary emotions. The increased awareness will help them better understand each other’s experience in the cycle.
Relationship Repair Attempts
The more a couple can share their steps and go-to roles in their fighting patterns, the better they can stop the negative cycle together when they are in it. In John Gottman’s research on couple conflict, he termed these steps to stop the conflict as repair attempts. These repair attempts include:
- Purposely slowing down the discussion, softening in voice and body posture, and being intentional to listen/hear the other partner.
- Using humor to lower the negative energy.
- Becoming more aware of your partner’s underlying emotions and responding to meeting the real need.
- Calling out and naming the cycle. “We are in our cycle!” This gives both partners opportunity to step back, slow down, and de-escalate the fight.
Awareness Of Hurt & Pain
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) helps couples become more aware of their deeper emotions in times of distress. The EFT counselor will validate the initial anger or frustration and works to go into deeper emotions of hurt, sadness, loneliness, and shame underneath.
In my work with couples, I try to help each partner hear and understand the other’s hurt. Often, neither partner has been able to listen because they are focused on establishing their safety or to find the connection.
Understanding the other partner’s relationship history can also provide greater awareness for the ways hurt can be triggered in the negative cycle. The more one partner knows the other partner’s history, the better he/she can anticipate what will trigger fear, hurt, or shame.
Being more aware of your partner’s hurt means giving more attention to the triggers and cues of underlying emotion. In the midst of relationship conflict, both partners can be more conscious of the deeper hurt, fears, and shame that resides under the presenting conflict. Tuning into your partner’s pain or fear can produce greater empathy that can facilitate healing..
Understanding Relationship Pattern
A powerful turning point in Emotionally Focused Therapy occurs when a couple is able to describe their negative cycle and own their steps in the dance. When both partners view the cycle as the obstacle in the relationship, they have the opportunity to join forces to dis-empower it.
Couples who understand their pattern can take steps to change the pattern. Couples in the “de-escalation mode” have a deeper knowledge of what the fight is really about and what’s happening under the anger or the fight/flight responses. This understanding leads to knowing how their behaviors impact their partner and experience more empathy.
Start Emotionally Focused Therapy
Are you longing for a deeper connection with your partner and experiencing hopelessness that you will ever find this connection? Does it seem you and your partner get stuck in a negative pattern that often leaves you both angry, hurt, sad, and lonely?
If you do, please begin couples counseling with a counselor trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy. I encourage you to begin today to end the hurtful dance in your relationship and find the happiness that you and your partner so deeply dream about.