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Saturday, June 30, 2018

EFT Couple Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Cycle in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck

So many couples get stuck in a negative dynamic in their relationship that keep them stuck.  A big part of the problem is that many couples blame each other rather than seeing that the problem is the negative dynamic that they get caught up in.

Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck
In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (also known as EFT) couples learn to stop blaming each other and focus on their negative dynamic so they can change the dynamic.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic That Keeps Couples Stuck:
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how a couple can learn to stop blaming each other as they begin to see the negative dynamic and learn to change it with the help of an EFT couples therapist:

Alice and Sam
After five years of marriage, Alice and Sam were nearly ready to get a divorce when they started EFT couples therapy.

During the initial therapy consultation, Alice explained to their EFT couples therapist that she was at her wits end because whenever she tried to tell Sam what was bothering her, he withdrew from her emotionally and physically.  She said she felt alone and lonely in their relationship and she didn't know how to get through to him.

Sam sat in the therapist's office looking away from Alice with his arms folded.  When it was his turn to talk about his perspective of the problem, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "No matter what I do, it's never right."

When their EFT therapist prompted Sam to say more, he said that Alice tended to blame him for all the problems in their relationship and he gave up more than a year ago.  He said he didn't like to argue, so he preferred to go to his home office and shut the door when Alice yelled at him.  He said he was tired of being blamed and he dreaded coming home from work.

While Sam was speaking, Alice seemed as if she could barely contain herself, and she turned to the therapist and said, "You see? This is what I have to contend with. He just shuts down like he doesn't care, and I can't get through to him no matter what I do or say."

When the therapist asked Sam for an example of a typical argument, he brought up an argument that they had a few days earlier.  He said Alice got angry with him after he forgot their wedding anniversary.  He told the therapist that he understood that Alice was upset, but he felt that her reaction was "over the top."

From his perspective, Sam realized that he made a mistake, but when Alice kept criticizing him even after he apologized, he didn't see the point in discussing it, so he went to his office and shut the door.  But rather than allowing things to cool down, Sam said, Alice pursued him into his office and continued to berate him, which he couldn't stand, so he left the apartment.

When it was Alice's turn to speak, she said she didn't understand how Sam expected her not to be angry when he forgot their anniversary.  To her, this meant that he didn't care about her or their marriage.

As the couples therapist listened to Alice and Sam describe their arguments, she could see that they were stuck in a negative dynamic and this dynamic tended to get played out repeatedly with Alice being the pursuer and Sam being the withdrawer in their relationship.

Being stuck in a negative dynamic can be difficult for a couple to change on their own--especially if the couple has been in a particular negative cycle for a while.  But, over time, the EFT couples therapist helped Alice and Sam to see that there were "no bad guys" in their relationship--there was only a negative dynamic that they could learn to change.

Gradually, over time, the couples therapist helped Sam to become emotionally reengaged in the  relationship.  Then, she asked him to describe what he felt like when Alice blamed him for their problems.  In response, he thought about it and then said, "I feel like I'm worthless and that our relationship is hopeless, so why should I even try?"

As Sam said this, he choked back tears, and Alice, who seemed moved by Sam's sadness, reached over to touch his hand, "I didn't know that this was how you were feeling.  I thought you didn't care about me anymore.  I didn't mean to make you feel worthless."

Sam looked over at Alice, squeezed her hand and said, "Of course, I still care about you. I thought you were completely fed up with me, so I withdrew from you to protect myself emotionally."

The couples therapist asked Alice to talk about the emotions she experienced underneath her anger, and Alice responded, "I'm hurt and afraid that I'm losing Sam.  I don't want to lose him.  I don't mean to yell and blame him.  I just get so desperate that I don't know what to say or do.  I want our marriage to work out."

As Alice and Sam began to identify their underlying emotions, they began to see that they both still cared about each other, but the negative dynamic that they engaged in kept them stuck.

Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck

After Sam became more emotionally engaged in the couples sessions and talked about his emotional vulnerability, Alice's attitude toward Sam softened.  Rather than blaming him and yelling at him, she was able to say what she needed from him emotionally, which allowed Sam to open up to give Alice what she needed and express what he needed from Alice.

By rebuilding trust and being more emotionally vulnerable with each other, over time, Sam and Alice were able to change their dynamic so that they could express their underlying emotions rather than allowing anger and avoidance keep them stuck in a negative cycle.

The fictional clinical vignette is a common negative dynamic in relationships where one person is the avoidant withdrawer and the other person is the blamer/pursuer.

Each person in his or her role of withdrawer and blamer/pursuer makes the dynamic worse and reinforces continues to reinforce it.  The more the pursuer/blamer blames and pursues, the more the withdrawer avoids and withdraws.  Even though the couple might know that what each of them is doing isn't working, they don't know how to change this negative cycle.

In the fictional example above, which is brief and simplistic since this is a blog article, the EFT therapist assesses the couples' negative dynamic and the role that each person plays in it.  Over time, she helps each person to identify the underlying emotions that are often not apparent to the other person in the relationship.

For example, when Sam withdrew from Alice, Alice assumed that this meant he didn't care about her anymore.  All she could see was that Sam was withdrawing emotionally and physically.  Not knowing what else to do, Alice continued to pursue and blame Sam and he withdrew even more.

In EFT couples therapy, the EFT couples therapist creates a safe therapeutic environment which helps the withdrawer to feel safe enough to reengage emotionally so s/he can identify the underlying emotions and tell the other person in the relationship what s/he is experiencing.

When the person, who is in the role of the pursuer, hears that the withdrawer feels sad, helpless and hopeless (or whatever emotions s/he might be experiencing), this often comes as a surprise and a relief that the withdrawer still actually cares.

Once the withdrawer becomes emotionally engaged again and can communicate what s/he actually feels, the pursuer often softens his or her stance so that s/he can communicate what s/he is really feeling underneath all the blaming.

The example above is a simply illustration of how EFT couples therapy works.  Each relationship is, of course, different, and there can be other complications in the relationship, especially if the negative dynamic has been going on for a long time.

Sometimes, the withdrawer needs more time to feel emotionally safe enough to say what s/he feels.  Similarly, the person who is in the role of the pursuer/blamer might not trust that that the withdrawer will remain open enough to hear how hurtful things have been for him or her.  So, it can take time.

One important difference between regular couples therapy and EFT couples therapy is that there are "no bad guys" in the relationship.  The focus is on changing the dynamics that aren't working in the relationship rather than assigning blame.

More Information About EFT Couples Therapy
To find out more about EFT couples therapy, you can read Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, a clinician and researcher, who developed EFT couples therapy.

See my article: How EFT Couples Therapy Can Help to Improve Your Relationship.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
When couples are stuck in a negative dynamic, it can be hard to see a way out.

Research has shown that EFT couples therapy is an effective form of couples therapy that gets lasting results.

Rather than feeling helpless and hopeless, you owe it to yourself and your spouse or partner to get help to overcome the negative cycle that keeps you both stuck.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist, who is trained in EFT couples therapy.

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

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