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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

4 Ways Unresolved Trauma Can Have a Negative Impact on You and Your Relationship

There are many ways unresolved trauma can create problems for you and your relationship, especially unresolved childhood trauma (see my article: How Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Ability to Be in a Relationship).

Unresolved Trauma Can Affect You and Your Relationship

4 Ways Unresolved Trauma Can Have a Negative Impact on You and Your Relationship
In this article, I'm focusing specifically on the following four problems:
  • Developing Rigid Negative Beliefs About Yourself and Relationships
  • Choosing an Unhealthy Partner
  • Getting Triggered During Conflicts with Your Partner
  • Staying in an Unhealthy Relationship Too Long
1. Developing Rigid Negative Beliefs About Yourself and Relationships
Your early childhood experiences have an important impact on your beliefs about yourself and about relationships in general.

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family where life was chaotic and you felt unlovable and emotionally invalidated, you might have formed rigid and negative beliefs about yourself and relationships, including:
  • "I don't deserve a loving partner."
  • "No one will find me lovable."
  • "All men are cheaters."
  • "Women can't be trusted."
  • "Men only want sex."
And so on.

You might also have a strong fear of rejection and abandonment based on your early experiences. In addition, you might even anticipate rejection and abandonment where these problems doesn't exist.

These rigid negative beliefs make it difficult to trust anyone so even though you might want to have a partner, you might also dread getting into a relationship (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

2. Choosing an Unhealthy Partner
If you don't know what a healthy relationship looks like because you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you might not know how to choose someone who is right for you.

Consciously, you might tell yourself you want a relationship that's different from what you experienced growing up, but unconsciously you might gravitate towards partners who feel familiar to you. If what's familiar is dysfunction, that might be what you're drawn to when you're meeting a potential partner.

On an unconscious level, you might also be drawn to people who aren't interested in you because these types of situations activate a familiar longing in you from your childhood (see my article: Letting Go of an Unhealthy Relationship: Unrequited Love).

3. Getting Triggered During Conflicts in Your Relationship
If you have unresolved trauma, you can get easily triggered during an argument with your partner.  

Unresolved Trauma Can Get Triggered During Arguments

In the moment, you might not realize that you're stuck in a trauma response because you don't realize your unresolved trauma is getting triggered or, even if you're aware of it, you could find it hard to distinguish between your current emotions from past experiences (see my article: Overcoming Trauma: Learning to Separate Past Traumatic Experiences From Now).

Even if you're in a healthy relationship, your old emotional wounds can get triggered from unresolved trauma. This can create a trauma response including:
  • Fawn
    • Engaging in people-pleasing behavior with your partner to ward off your unpleasant feelings to the detriment of your emotional needs (see my article: Trauma and the Fawn Response).
4. Staying in an Unhealthy Relationship Too Long
People who have unresolved trauma often develop an unhealthy tolerance for emotional abuse because it's familiar to them from their childhood and they don't realize they're in an unhealthy relationship (see my article: Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship?).

Even if you realize you're in an unhealthy relationship, you might feel this is all that you deserve and it's the best you can do because you feel so unworthy.  This is related to negative beliefs about yourself mentioned above.

You might also leave an unhealthy relationship, but you enter into a succession of unhealthy relationships after that because you haven't done the necessary psychological work to overcome your history of trauma that creates relationship problems for you.

Getting Help in Trauma Therapy
Trauma therapy is different from regular talk therapy.

Getting Help in Trauma Therapy

Regular talk therapy where you talk about your trauma, but you don't actually process the trauma with specific trauma therapy interventions, isn't as effective as Experiential Therapies like EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Somatic Experiencing or AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy).


Instead of struggling on your own, you could benefit from working with a trauma therapist to overcome trauma that keeps you stuck. 

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome trauma so you can lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

As a trauma therapist, I have helped many individual adults and couples to overcome trauma.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.






















Valentine's Day: 5 Tips For a Long and Happy Relationship

It's Valentine's Day. If you're in a relationship, it's a reminder to show your appreciation for your spouse or partner. 



5 Tips For a Long and Happy Relationship
When you're in a long term relationship, it's easy to take each other for granted and forget to show love and appreciation, so here are some tips:

1. Remember what brought you together when you first fell in love: 
In long-term relationships and marriages, it's easy to fall into the negative habit of nitpicking and fault finding.  While you can't always expect that you'll feel the same passion and head-over-heels in love feelings you felt when you first met, it helps to remember the positive things that brought you together and reinforce those things in your relationship.  For instance, if an interest in music brought you together, when was the last time the two of you went to a concert with your favorite artist?  Make plans to do the things you both enjoy doing to bring back some fun and passion into your relationship.

2. Make Your Relationship the Priority: 
It's important to maintain friendships and family relationships but, over all, making your relationship with your spouse the priority will go a long way to setting the stage for a healthy, happy marriage.  Don't take your spouse for granted.  If friends and relatives are making constant demands of your time and this consistently takes away from your time with your spouse, you would be wise to rethink your priorities.  Don't take the path of least resistance just because your spouse is always "understanding."  Even if you have the most understanding spouse, when you consistently put others first, over time, you're eroding the quality of your relationship with your spouse.

3. Create Special Times with Your Spouse: 
Every so often, it helps to create a special time with your spouse.  Whether this means, you stay at home, unplug the phones and your gadgets, and have a romantic champagne brunch together or you have a romantic evening where you play with new sex toys, make an effort to create special times together. Nothing kills a marriage more than boredom, day after day, week after week, doing the same old things. Special times together help to rekindle your love for each other.

4. Choose Your Battles: 
Nitpicking and nagging is a real turn off in any relationship.  Sometimes,  you have to ask yourself whether it's worth getting into an argument over something that, if you thought about it for a few minutes, is really a petty issue.  Sometimes, it's necessary to have a larger perspective of the relationship and over look the "small stuff."

5. Show Respect For Each Other at all Times, Even When You're Arguing: 
Contempt is one of the biggest relationship killers.  If you're the type to say disrespectful and contemptuous things to your spouse when you're arguing, you need to learn a different way of communicating because you're endangering your relationship.  Once the contemptuous words leave your mouth, it's hard to take them back.  Respectful communication between spouses is key to any long-term happy marriage.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and you partner have unresolved problems, you could benefit from couples therapy (see my article: How Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples Can Improve Your Relationship).

Rather than allowing things to continue to slide downhill, take steps to have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.














Sunday, February 11, 2024

How to Stop Arguments in Your Relationship

In recent articles I've been focusing on how Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (also known as EFT) can help people in relationships to identify and break their negative cycles:



In the current article, I'm discussing an EFT strategy called TEMPO developed by George Faller, LMFT, EFT therapist and senior trainer, that can help you to stop arguments.

How to Stop Arguments in Your Relationship

George Faller and Laurie Watson discussed TEMPO in Episode 273 of their podcast, Foreplay Radio.

TEMPO can be especially helpful for couples who have the same argument over and over again without resolution.  This means they are stuck in a negative cycle, and they probably have no idea this is happening because they're unaware of their cycle. 

As I've mentioned in the previous articles, over time, the negative cycle erodes the relationship because couples don't know how to deal with it.

So, TEMPO is a way you and your partner can stop arguing about the same thing so you can break the negative cycle.

What is TEMPO?
First, let's define what TEMPO means.

George Faller, LMFT developed the acronym TEMPO based on the work of Magda B. Arnold, a Canadian psychologist who was the first contemporary theorist to develop the appraisal theory of emotions.

TEMPO stands for:

T: Trigger
E: Emotion
M: Meaning
P: Protection
O: Organization
  • Trigger: An emotional trigger includes the thoughts, memories, words or behavior that spark an intense negative reaction in you. Emotional triggers are immediate and come on suddenly without warning (see my article: Coping With Emotional Triggers).
  • Emotion: In the context of having an argument, emotions are what you experience that are related to the trigger.  You experience emotions in the body first before you can identify them mentally, so it's important to develop somatic awareness in order to be able to identify emotions (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: Developing Somatic Awareness).
  • Meaning: Meaning refers to the story you tell yourself about what happened. It's what you tell yourself about what happened between you and your partner (see my article: How a Negative Narrative Develops).
  • Protection: Protection refers to what you say or do to protect yourself when you're faced with unpleasant emotions related to the situation you're in with your partner. This is usually an automatic reaction: fight, flight, freeze or fawn.  Protection can also be thought of as defense mechanisms.
  • Organization: Organization is a way to pause and slow down to:
    • Identify the Trigger
    • Identify the Emotion and where you feel it in your body
    • Identify the Meaning you're making of the situation--what you're telling yourself about it.
    • Identify the Protection strategy you use. 
Clinical Vignette
Let's take a look at a clinical vignette, which is a composite of many different cases, to clarify how the TEMPO strategy:

Ina and Pete
Ina and Pete, both in their early 40s, have been married for five years, and they continue to have a recurring argument about lateness.

When they meet for dinner at a restaurant, Ina tends to get there at least 10-15 minutes early and Pete tends to come 5-10 minutes late so that Ina usually has to wait for Pete.  Pete usually doesn't acknowledge his lateness or apologize for it, which sets off Ina.

When Ina is set off, she confronts Pete because, in EFT terms, she's an Emotional Pursuer and she wants to get to the bottom of why he continues to comes late and he doesn't take responsibility for it.

In EFT terms, Pete is an Emotional Withdrawer, so when Ina confronts him, he wants to avoid arguing.  As a result, he dismisses and deflects Ina's concerns, which triggers her even more.  So, Ina confronts him even more, which makes Pete withdraw more.  

This is pursuer-withdrawer dynamic is their negative cycle: The more Ina pursues, the more Pete withdraws. Eventually, they get tired of the argument and after an hour or so, they talk about something else. 

Even though it appears on the surface that they have resolved their argument, they really haven't because there has been no resolution to their negative cycle, so they will continue to have this argument the next time Pete is late again.

Let's look at how to use TEMPO as it applies to each of them and then how to look at their dynamic together.

Ina's TEMPO
Trigger: When Pete comes late and he doesn't acknowledge his lateness or take responsibility.

Emotion: Ina feels angry, frustrated and hurt that Pete continues to arrive late--even though she has told him many times how much this bothers her.  She feels especially upset when Pete doesn't say anything to acknowledge and apologize for his lateness. In terms of where she feels the emotions in her body, she feels the anger and hurt in face, shoulders and her stomach.

Meaning: When she is triggered, in that moment Ina feels, "He must not love me if he continues to come late and he doesn't apologize to me--even though he knows it bothers me so much."

Protection: In EFT terms, as mentioned before, Ina is an Emotional Pursuer. She wants to get to the bottom of this problem immediately. She has a sense of urgency about it because she wants him to care about her and she also wants save their relationship.

Organization: If Ina knew the EFT TEMPO strategy, she would pause to identify the trigger, emotions and meaning she made out of this situation before she reacted.

Pete's TEMPO
Trigger: Pete gets triggered when Ina confronts him about his lateness. He rushed to the event, despite dealing with pressing issues at work that needed to be handled before he left. 

Emotion: He feels unappreciated and unloved when Ina gets angry with him for his lateness. He's told her so many times that he can't help being late when he gets delayed at his office or when he gets stuck in traffic. He also feels angry and frustrated that she's not more understanding. He feels his emotions in his chest and the back of his neck.

Meaning: In the moment when he's triggered, he feels she must not love him if she greets him in such a confrontational way. 

Protection: In EFT terms, as mentioned already, Pete is an Emotional Withdrawer. He feels so overwhelmed when Ina confronts him that he can't think straight. He needs time to step back and gather his thoughts. But when he hesitates, he's confronted even harder by Ina, which makes him want to withdraw even more.

Organization: If Pete knew the EFT TEMPO strategy, he would pause to identify the trigger, emotions and meaning he was attributing to this situation before he reacted.

Putting It All Together: Organizing the Negative Cycle For the Couple:
Once you understand your side of the negative cycle in terms of your own trigger, emotion, meaning and protection strategy, you and your partner can discuss how to break the negative cycle.

In the vignette with Ina and Pete, it might go something like this:

Pete: "I know how much it upsets you when I'm late and I'm sorry. Instead of ignoring your emotions, I wish I had acknowledged it right away instead of getting defensive about it. From now on, I'll call you when I have a situation at work that will cause me to be late. I love you very much. Our relationship means everything to me, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize it."

Breaking the Negative Cycle in a Relationship

Ina: "I know you do the best you can to try to come on time and sometimes you get delayed by emergencies at work or traffic. I know that what I feel in the moment--that you don't love me--is the story I'm telling myself when I get triggered and not how you really feel.  Instead of coming at you as soon as I see you, I'll take a moment to pause and calm myself instead of lashing out at you."

Pete: "I know you love and appreciate me too. In the moment when you get angry with me as soon as you see me, I feel like you don't care about me. That's the story I tell myself in that moment because I feel like I'm disappointing you and failing you."

Ina: "Let's make an agreement to pause when we're both upset so we don't react and we don't argue."

Pete: "I think that's a great idea. Let's do that."

Notice that both Ina and Pete had to approach each other with emotional vulnerability, which is often the opposite of what they were feeling at the moment when they were arguing (see my article: Are You Able to Express Your Vulnerable Feelings to Your Partner?).

This is why it's so important to slow down and pause so you're not reactive and you can each get vulnerable with each other because, ultimately, vulnerability is the way out of the negative cycle.

Is TEMPO an Automatic Fix For Recurring Arguments?
In a word, no--at least not immediately.

A negative cycle can be very challenging to change, especially if it's been a longstanding one. Emotions occur in a fraction of a second without a person's conscious awareness. 

It takes a lot of practice using TEMPO to try to change an ingrained negative cycle, but it can be done.

To complicate matters, emotional triggers are often related to earlier unresolved traumatic experiences from childhood (see my article: How Unresolved Childhod Trauma Affects Relationships).

For instance, if Ina grew up in a household where her father was unreliable and he was often late or he disappeared for days, she would be dealing with the current situation with Pete as well as, unconsciously, experiencing the old unresolved trauma related to her father.

If Pete grew up in a household where his parents criticized him a lot, he would be dealing with the current situation with Ina as well as, unconsciously, experiencing the old unresolved trauma related to his critical parents.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
TEMPO is a tool you and your partner can use, but if you continue to get stuck in a negative cycle, you could benefit from EFT Couples Therapy.

A skilled EFT couples therapist can help you to identify and break your negative cycle.

Instead of struggling on your own, seek help in EFT Couples Therapy to have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I have helped many individual adults and couples to overcome their problems, including unresolved trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.







































Thursday, February 8, 2024

Breaking the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship With Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples

In my prior article, Identifying the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship, I described a negative dynamic that many couples get stuck in after they have been together a while. 

That article also has a composite vignette about a couple and their underlying dynamics that contributed to their negative cycle. 

Breaking the Negative Cycle in a Relationship

If you haven't read the prior article, please review it here so you can follow the continuation of this topic in the current article.

I'm continuing with the same vignette to show how Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples helps couples to break and, eventually, to prevent negative cycles from occurring.

As a brief recap: The negative cycle is a repeating pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors within a relationship that cause distress.  This ongoing cycle erodes relationships if couples don't learn to break and prevent the cycle.

Aside from their repetitive nature, negative cycles create difficulties for couples because they don't know how to get out of them and they don't understand the underlying unconscious issues that fuel these dynamics.

Clinical Vignette - Part 2
The following is a continuation of the vignette about Tom and Jane from my prior article:

Tom and Jane
Since Tom and Jane were unaware of the concept of a negative cycle, they had no way to address it on their own.  They knew they needed professional help, so Tom and Jane sought help from an Emotionally Focused Therapy couples (EFT) therapist who was also a sex therapist.

By the time they sought help, Tom and Jane were so stuck in their negative cycle that they were having frequent arguments. In addition, their relationship had become so contentious that they were hardly having sex.  

Breaking the Negative Cycle in a Relationship

After getting detailed family, relationship and sexual histories, their EFT couples therapist helped them to de-escalate enough so they could talk to each other calmly. 

Then, she explained the concept of the negative cycle in relationships so they could begin the work of repairing their relationship. 

Jane talked about how unhappy she was because she felt Tom had so little regard for her feelings. She had told him many times that maintaining order in their apartment was important to her sense of well being.  She said she felt hurt that he didn't take into account how anxious she felt when he multi-tasked while doing housework so that the environment in the apartment was chaotic. 

Jane said she felt he must not love her if he continued to create a chaotic environment at home even though he knew this upset her so much.  She gave an example of how he left laundry in the dryer, instead of folding clothes right away, so that the clothes became wrinkled.  

"I know this might sound petty and ridiculous," Jane said to the couples therapist, "but the wrinkled laundry and the chaos he creates when he's doing chores makes me anxious. He knows this, so why would he continue to do it if he loved me?"

When it was Tom's turn, he told the couples therapist that he has his own way of doing things and he didn't want to be dictated to by Jane and treated like a child. He said he liked to multi-task because that's how he does things and, in the end, everything gets done and the household is neat and orderly afterwards. He admitted he could do a better job with the laundry, but he felt Jane's reaction was out of proportion to the situation.

"I feel so unappreciated and unloved by Jane." Tom told the couples therapist, "I just can't understand why she's making such a big thing about this. We keep arguing about the same thing and it has taken a toll on our relationship. If she really loved me, she would just relax about it."

Since the therapist had already taken a family history from each of them, she had a good idea that the unconscious underlying issues were for each of them was their history of unresolved trauma:

Jane's Unresolved Trauma
Jane grew up in a chaotic household with alcoholic parents. As a young child, she functioned as a parent to her younger siblings because there was no one else to do it.

Not only was this overwhelming for such a young girl, it was also traumatic and remained unresolved for Jane because she had never worked through these issues in therapy.  

It was apparent that Jane's unresolved trauma was getting triggered in her relationship with Tom whenever he created a mess in the apartment, but she didn't see the connection between her childhood trauma and her current situation.

Tom's Unresolved Trauma
Tom was an only child who grew up feeling unloved and unappreciated by his parents because they paid little attention to him.  

He tried to elicit their love and attention by excelling at school and in sports, but his parents were preoccupied with their work. Their praise was meager, so Tom grew up feeling unloved and unappreciated.

It was apparent that Tom's unresolved trauma was getting triggered whenever Jane criticized him and he felt unloved and unappreciated, but he had no awareness of this.

Breaking the Negative Cycle in Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples
The couples therapist knew that Jane and Tom's triggers were unconscious so they didn't understand that their relationship dynamic was triggering these old unresolved childhood wounds.

Over time, she helped Jane and Tom to make their unconscious issues conscious so they could understand the connection (see my article: Making the Unconscious Conscious).  

She also helped them to stop blaming each other and to focus on breaking their negative cycle.  This was a crucial part of the work because it allowed Jane and Tom to come together as a team, instead of fighting with each other.

Their therapist helped them to understand how each of their attachment styles affected their dynamic (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

Their couples therapist helped them to develop the tools to interrupt their negative cycle so they could each calm down and discuss their problems calmly.  

After they interrupted their negative cycle, they would each take time to get grounded and centered using the coping mechanisms they learned from their EFT couples therapist.

They each learned to regulate their own emotions as well as provide emotional co-regulation for each other.  

After she taught them to interrupt their negative cycle, over time, she helped Tom and Jane to prevent the negative cycle from occurring by teaching them to create an attachment-friendly environment for their relationship, as discussed in Julie Menanno's book, Secure Love.

An Attachment-Friendly Environment For a Relationship
The EFT therapist taught them to:
Sex Therapy
Learning to prevent their negative cycle enabled Tom and Jane to work with their EFT couples therapist,who was also a sex therapist, to improve their sex life.

    See my articles:


Over time, they were able to have enjoyable sex that was better than before their negative cycle began.

Working in Trauma Therapy to Overcome Unresolved Trauma
Tom and Jane each attended individual therapy with trauma therapists to work through their individual histories of trauma.

Tom chose an EMDR therapist and Jane worked with a Somatic Experiencing therapist so they were no longer triggered by unresolved childhood trauma.

Conclusion
The work was neither quick nor easy, but Tom and Jane learned to prevent their negative cycle from occurring by overcoming their underlying unresolved issues.

Breaking the Negative Cycle in a Relationship

They also learned how to interact with each other in a healthy way by creating an attachment-friendly environment for their relationship by developing empathy, trust, emotional connection, an expanded emotional capacity and practicing emotional vulnerability and validation.

Getting Help in Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT)
The negative cycle is difficult to overcome on your own because you and your partner might not see the unconscious issues beneath the surface, and even if you see these issues, they're difficult to change on your own without the help of a skilled couples therapist.

If you and your partner are struggling with a negative cycle, get help in EFT couples therapy so you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex-positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples to help them to overcome unresolved problems, including a history of trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.


































Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Identifying the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship

In her book, Secure Relationships,  Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples therapist Julie Menanno, LMFT, discusses how couples can strengthen the bonds of love in their relationship by breaking the negative cycle that keeps them stuck with unresolved problems.

Identifying the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship

I began a discussion about the negative cycle in a prior article, Overcoming the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship That Keeps You Stuck.

In the current article I'm focusing on how you can identify the negative cycle in your relationship. 

What Are Negative Cycles?
Most couples don't start their relationship with a negative cycle because the first stage of the relationship is usually the honeymoon stage where there's so much exciting new relationship energy that the negative cycle often doesn't come up (see my article: What Are the 3 Phases of the Honeymoon Stage?).

The honeymoon phase, which is also known as limerence, usually lasts anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.  After that, new relationship energy tends to decrease and each person begins to see the flaws and problems in their relationship.

Identifying the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship

After the honeymoon phase, when the first conflict hits, the argument usually runs its course and the partners reconnect without too much of a problem.  Sometimes this happens with each person agreeing that they don't want to argue and making up is relatively easy that first time.

But after a while, certain themes emerge as problems in the relationship. These themes create ongoing conflict.  

Although the couple might eventually make up after each argument, their relationship takes a hit every time they argue because they're not addressing the negative cycle in these conflicts and they often don't even realize there's a negative cycle.

Identifying the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship

After each argument they might promise each other to improve their communication, but if they continue to ignore the underlying issues in these arguments--either because they don't know what the issues are or they're avoiding dealing with these issues--they're going to continue to get stuck in a negative cycle.

As an Emotionally Focused Therapist, when I work with couples who are stuck in a negative cycle, I help them to identify this dynamic.  Eventually, instead of blaming each other in endless arguments, they learn to work as a team to break the cycle that keeps them stuck.

Clinical Vignette
The following example, which is a composite of many different cases, shows a common negative cycle and the underlying issues that keep this couple stuck and having the same argument over and over again:

Tom and Jane
Three years into their marriage, Tom and Jane are stuck in a negative cycle where they argue about how Tom leaves the laundry in the dryer so that the clothes get wrinkled.

When Jane does the laundry, she folds the clothes right away so they don't get wrinkled.  In addition, Jane told Tom many times that it's important to her to do it this way.  She said that wrinkled laundry feels chaotic to her and makes her anxious when she sees it. 

But Tom likes to multi-task so when it's his turn to do the laundry, he's also cooking and doing other things around the apartment. As a result, he allows the laundry to sit in the dryer and by the time he takes the clothes out, the clothes are wrinkled.  

Identifying the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship

When Jane sees the pile of wrinkled laundry, she feels frustrated, hurt and angry.  She feels upset that Tom isn't taking her feelings into account after she's told him so many times how she feels about this.

When Jane confronts him about the wrinkled laundry, Tom feels unappreciated for all he does, so he gets defensive and, by then, they're well into ongoing negative cycle.  

Jane told Tom, "You do housework in such a chaotic way! I've told you so many times that it's important to me that you fold the laundry as soon as the clothes are dry because they get wrinkled if you leave them in the dryer. I've told you how important this is to me. Why can't you do it?  It's so simple."

Tom responded, "What's the big deal? Why do you pick on the one thing I got wrong instead of focusing on everything I did right today. I did the laundry. I cooked. I vacuumed and mopped. I took care of the recycling. I feel so unappreciated by you!"

After a while, each of them retreats to other rooms to calm down on their own.  By the time they come back together, neither of them wants to argue anymore.  There's been no resolution.  They just start talking about something else without addressing the negative cycle until the next time it happens again.

In fact, they don't recognize they have a negative cycle at this point in their relationship. They know they argue about the same types of issues, but they don't recognize these arguments as part of an ongoing dynamic.

In addition, they don't realize there are unconscious issues from the past for each of them that are getting triggered.

Over time, the negative cycle affects their sex life.  Four years into their relationship, their sex life dwindled down to once a month because their arguments created emotional and sexual distance between them.

What Are the Underlying Issues?
Looking at these arguments on the surface, Tom and Jane are arguing about wrinkled clothes.  But there are important underlying issues for each of them.

Jane's Underlying Issues
Jane grew up in a dysfunctional household with two alcoholic parents. The household was almost always chaotic with few, if any, routines.  This meant that, as the oldest child, Jane often took over her parents' responsibilities in the household, which was overwhelming for her.  

After she moved out on her own, Jane developed routines for herself at home that helped her to feel calm and emotionally centered.  

Whenever Jane discovered the wrinkled laundry, on an unconscious level, she felt unloved by Tom because it triggered old feelings from her childhood when she felt unloved by her parents.  

She didn't know these old feelings were being triggered.  She just felt that if Tom loved her, he would do what she asked him to do because he would know it was important to her.  

She didn't make the connection between her unresolved childhood trauma and the dynamic in her relationship with Tom (see my article: How Unresolved Trauma Can Affect a Relationship).

Tom's Underlying Issues
As an only child, Tom grew up feeling unappreciated by his parents, who were often so involved with their business that they hardly had time for him. 

Tom desperately wanted his parents' love and attention.  So, he would work hard to get good grades in school and excel at sports--all in an effort to feel loved and appreciated by his parents.  

But his parents were preoccupied with their work most of the time, so they only gave him superficial praise, which was disappointing for Tom.  Often they focused on a particular flaw in something Tom did instead of everything else he accomplished. This left Tom feeling unappreciated and unlovable.

Every time Jane confronted him about wrinkled laundry without appreciating how much else he was doing in their home, on an unconscious level, Tom felt unloved and unappreciated because Jane's criticism triggered old feelings from his childhood. 

He didn't know these old feelings were being triggered.  He just felt that if Jane loved him, she would appreciate his overall effort at home and she wouldn't focus on the one thing she thought he did wrong.  

He didn't make the connection between his unresolved childhood trauma and the dynamic in his relationship with Jane.

Identifying the Negative Cycle
On the surface, it appears that Jane and Tom's problems are about wrinkled laundry, which might seem trivial.  

But when the underlying issues are taken into account, it becomes obvious that there's a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples helps each individual in a relationship to look for the unconscious triggers that are affecting their relationship so they can address those issues in couples therapy.

If these underlying issues aren't addressed, couples continue to repeat the negative cycle, which will erode their relationship over time.

Next Article
In my next article, Breaking the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship With Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples, I'll show you how Tom and Jane break the negative cycle in their relationship in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples.


Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
If you and your partner have been unable to resolve problems on your own, you could benefit from working with an EFT couples therapist.

Over 30 years of research has revealed that Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples is an effective form of couples therapy that has been empirically validated.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed EFT couples therapist so you can break the negative cycle and have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples to help them resolve their problems, including problems related to unresolved trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.