The Negative Cycle is the Enemy
Couples often enter into relationship counseling to find solutions to their “communication problems” or to learn new ways to resolve conflict. In my first session with couples, I begin to hear from each partner what frustrates him/her the most and where they get stuck in their interactions.
I am learning how the partners interact while discussing their conflicts and leaning into the deeper emotions that they don’t show each other. Often in the first session, I get to experience what it’s like for each partner as they both desperately seek acceptance, affirmation, and love.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
In the subsequent sessions, I will be continuing to learn more about each partner’s raw spots, triggers, the meaning each make out of the other’s actions, and what they do when they are hurt, scared, angry, or sad. I will often ask such questions as, “What did his actions say to you?”, “What did you do after she said that?”, and “Wow! That makes perfect sense why you responded in that way.”
We will together review over and over what happens when they get stuck in the horrible loop. I will be getting a better sense of which partner is more the pursuer in the cycle and which has more of a tendency to withdraw from the conflict. I will attempt to better understand, validate their moves in the dance, and help both partners see each other’s valid reasons for doing what they do.
Able To Describe the Negative Cycle
A major turning point in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) occurs when a couple is finally able to describe their conflict pattern and discuss it together without falling back into the loop. What a wonderful joy it is to witness a couple seeing the pattern as the obstacle in their relationship to feeling connected and loved rather than blaming the other as the problem. When the couple begins to see their cycle in the present moment and talk about what’s happening, they are able to work as a team to exit the negative dance and move toward empathy.
Cycles Include Hurts, Sadness, Fears, & Tears
When I attended EFT training’s, the instructor stated that the first 3-4 sessions can be the most difficult with couples because they come into sessions with histories of hurts, frustrations, injuries, and fears. Boy was he correct! My work with the couple includes non-judgmentally hearing and understanding each partner’s emotional responses and helping each unpack what’s underneath the cycle.
I will spend time trying to better understand one partner’s frustration and anger, helping that partner “marinate” in the experience, curiously search for deeper emotions, and once those emotions are better organized, to have that partner share those emotions tied to their action tendencies. This help “decriminalize” and clarify why they do what they do when they get stuck.
The Cycle Is The Enemy
Eventually the couples will get a “felt-sense” understanding of what its like to be in the cycle and to empathized with his/her partner’s experience. I encourage couples to give their cycle a name that reflects their experience when it takes over. The names can be something like, “the deep freeze,” “broken mirror,” or “the great horrible.” In naming the cycle, the couple begins to better view it as the problem rather than either partner. Partner gain a better understanding of the impact their actions have in the negative loop and more empathy for each other too. The next time they are in conflict, my hope is that they will stop and recognize that they are caught up in their “Deep Freeze”.
Goal Is To De-Escalate The Cycle
The work of reviewing the cycle over and over is similar to how I learned to snow board. Each time I went down the bunny hill, feel on my rear, felt the pain, it helped motivate me to do it differently the next run down the hill. The couple learns each other’s moves in the dance. They work together to change their dance moves and the music changes.
In EFT, we refer to the changing music and dance steps as de-escalation because each partner is reacting less and less negatively or destructively. What I often experience is a softening of both partners when they come into the next session. It can feel less stressful and a more safe interaction. The goal is for each partner to accept what the other is feeling and not try to change it, criticize it, or “correct” it.
Empathy & Vulnerability
As couples give more attention to the underlying emotions in their partner, each can better understand and acknowledge the other partner’s pain, sadness, loneliness, and fears. Empathy and compassion can move into replace the prior negative emotions that kept the conflict going. Now the couple can begin to open up about their emotions underneath their prior protective responses. Feeling safe, partners can now reach out more vulnerably the other, risk asking for their needs to be meet, and the other partner can respond in a way that he or she may never have previously.
Start Couples Counseling
Are you and your partner caught in a negative cycle that seems to push you both further away? Do you desire to have a safer connection and deeper sharing of your inner worlds? Do you want to feel the love that you both had for each other in the beginning of the relationship? I believe that Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) can help you and your partner de-escalate the fighting, soften in how you both communicate your needs, and establish more vulnerability in your relationship bond. Contact me today to begin couples counseling. Don’t wait another day!