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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Learning to Become More Emotionally Responsive to Your Partner in EFT Couple Therapy

Couples often feel frustrated by recurring negative cycles in their relationship.  Even couples who really love each other and want to be there for each other get stuck in these negative cycles (see my article:  What is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?)

Learning to Become More Emotionally Responsive to Your Partner in EFT Couple Therapy
Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples provides couples with an opportunity to identify their negative cycles and, with the help of an EFT-trained couple therapist, learn how to restructure their interactions with each other (see my articles:  EFT Couple Therapy: Working Together to Overcome the Negative Pattern in Your Relationship).

Emotional responsiveness is an essential part of a loving relationship.  But a common problem in many relationships is that each individual in the relationship has a different concept of what being emotionally responsive means, and this is one of the problems that can perpetuate a negative cycle.

Fictional Vignette: Learning to Become Emotionally Responsive to Your Partner in EFT Couple Therapy:
The following fictional vignette is typical of the dynamic that often occurs in couples when there are problems with emotional responsiveness.  Even though this vignette is presented with the woman and man having particular dynamics, these dynamics can occur with either a man or a woman.  In addition, these dynamics also occur in same-sex relationships.

Sam and Nina
Several months into their relationship, Sam asked Nina to move in with him.  Although she loved Sam and she knew he loved her, Nina told him that she was hesitant to take the relationship to the next level because she felt he wasn't as emotionally responsive to her as she would like him to be.

At first, Sam was surprised to hear Nina say this and he asked her to give him examples of when this occurred.  Nina gave Sam several examples of when she needed his emotional support and, instead of being emotionally present with her, Sam overlooked how upset she was and gave her suggestions on how to "fix" the problem.

Sam listened carefully as Nina spoke, but he couldn't understand why Nina thought he wasn't being emotionally supportive by recommending ways to "fix" her problem.

Nina tried to explain to Sam that she wasn't looking for him to "fix" her problems, which included longstanding complex problems with her parents.  Instead, she just wanted him to listen and be emotionally present with her as she talked to him about these problems.

No matter how Nina tried to explain what she felt she needed from Sam emotionally, he remained confused.  By the end of their discussion, Nina felt frustrated that Sam didn't understand, and Sam felt irritated that Nina couldn't see that if she used some of his suggestions, she wouldn't have these problems anymore, "Isn't it better to have a solution?"

When Nina told Sam that she thought this problem between them was significant enough for them to go to couple therapy, he told her that he thought she was making things unnecessarily complicated between them and he didn't see why they needed to go to couple therapy.

But as the weeks passed and they were both feeling emotionally distant from each other, and Nina expressed doubts about the relationship, Sam told Nina, reluctantly, that he would agree to go to couple therapy to try to work things out between them.

Since Nina's friend told her that she and her spouse had a very good experience in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT), Nina sought an EFT couple therapist.

Initially, Sam was sure that the EFT couple therapist would take Nina's side and blame him for their problems, especially since the therapist was a woman.  But he was surprised that the therapist was evenhanded with each of them and she understood and was able to reflect back Sam's and Nina's individual points of view about their problems together with empathy.

Nina and Sam were both pleased that the EFT couple therapist was able to help them to identify the negative cycle where they got stuck as a couple.

Specifically, the therapist assessed that when Nina told Sam that she wasn't getting what she needed from him, Sam felt criticized and blamed, which caused him to withdraw from Nina.  And when Sam withdrew from Nina, she became angry and frustrated and she would become more strident in her efforts to try to get Sam to understand (see my article: What Happens During Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?.

Nina's reaction, in turn, caused Sam to withdraw even further, and the negative cycle went on and on (see my articles: How EFT Couple Therapy Helps "Pursuers" to Become Aware of Primary Emotions to Improve Their Relationship and How EFT Couple Therapy Helps "Distancers" to Become Aware of Primary Emotions to Improve Their Relationship).

Both Nina and Sam agreed that this was their negative cycle.  Sam asked the therapist, "It's great that we know what our negative cycle is, but how do we fix it?"  Hearing him say this, Nina rolled her eyes in anger and frustration and turned to the therapist, "You see?  This is what I have to deal with.  Right away, he wants to know how to 'fix' it" instead of trying to get a deeper understanding of it."

When Sam saw Nina roll her eyes, he folded his arms defensively and slumped in his chair.  It took several more sessions for Nina to stop criticizing Sam and for Sam to understand that therapy, including couple therapy, is a process.  She told them that she felt confident that they would eventually both learn to be more emotionally responsive to one another.

When Nina got to the point where she understood in couple therapy that Sam genuinely wanted to be emotionally responsive to her and improve their relationship and, at the same time, his earlier family experiences were an obstacle for him, Nina became much more open and compassionate towards Sam.

When Sam experienced Nina as more open and compassionate towards him, Sam was more willing to see how Nina's family background had a negative impact on her in their relationship.  He also became much more patient with the couple therapy process.

They both came to understand that an intellectual understanding of their relationship dynamic was not enough and to achieve the changes that they each wanted, the shift would have to occur on an emotional level.

With the help of their EFT couple therapist, Sam and Nina began to restructure their dynamics in their couple therapy sessions by allowing themselves to be emotionally vulnerable with each other to say what they each needed (see my article: What Happens During Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?).

At first, when they learned to do this in their couple therapy sessions, they thought they were done with therapy.  But, as their EFT couple therapist told them, they discovered that, at that point, it was difficult to do this on their own without the help of their therapist.  They needed a lot more practice in their sessions to begin to have success on their own.

Like most dynamics in therapy, Nina and Sam found out that their individual progress in couple therapy was often two steps forward and one step back.  But over time, they each became more comfortable being emotionally responsive to each other when they were on their own.

Sam learned how to listen to Nina in an emotionally present and responsive way.  Most of the time, he was no longer focused on "fixing" things between them.  And Nina learned to stop criticizing and blaming Sam when he occasionally slipped up and reverted back to trying to "fix" the problem.

They both learned that, even though they were bound to make mistakes with each other, as everyone does, the most important thing was that they knew how to turn towards each other (rather than away) to emotionally repair their interactions with one another.

Conclusion
In every couple, each person brings a family history that impacts how s/he relates in an adult romantic relationship.

Having compassion and empathy for one another and being willing to change a negative cycle is key to a successful relationship (see my article: EFT Couple Counseling: New Bonds of Love Can Replace a Negative Cycle in Your Relationship).

Learning to Become More Emotionally Responsive to Your Partner in EFT Couple Therapy

How each person in a relationship defines and thinks about being emotionally responsive might be different.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is a well-researched, powerful tool to help couples to learn to recognize their negative cycle and change it with the help of the EFT couple therapist.

The EFT couple therapist helps the couple to learn new ways of interacting in their sessions so that, eventually, they can interact in a more emotionally responsive way with each other when they're on their own--instead of remaining stuck in a negative cycle.

Getting Help in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) Couple Therapy
Rather than struggling on your own, you and your partner could benefit from Emotionally Focused Therapy so that you can have a more loving and emotionally satisfying relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist for couples.

I have worked with individuals and couples for over 20 years.

I work with heterosexual, lesbian, gay, transgender and queer couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.