NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, July 2, 2018

How EFT Couple Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship

In my prior article,  EFT Couples Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck, I began a discussion about how Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) helps couples to overcome the negative cycle that they're stuck in.  In this article, I'm continuing the discussion about EFT and how it can help to improve your relationship.

How EFT Couples Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship

EFT couples therapy recognizes that couples often get caught up in a negative cycle and that they are often unaware of this cycle.  During the initial stage of EFT couples therapy, the EFT therapist is assessing, among other things, the type of negative cycle that the couple is stuck in.

EFT Couples Therapy and the Negative Cycle
The negative cycle usually involves each individual in the relationship aware of their secondary emotions (e.g., anger, frustration), but unaware of their primary emotions (e.g., sadness).  The secondary emotions usually function as defenses against experiencing the emotional vulnerability involved with the primary emotions.

For instance, many people feel more comfortable experiencing the secondary emotion of anger rather than allowing them to experience the primary emotion of sadness, which underlies their anger.

It's not that the secondary emotion isn't real--far from it.  The anger is real, but if each individual in the couple only allows him or herself to experience the anger, s/he will remain stuck in anger rather than recognizing the sadness s/he feels about problems in the relationship.

Getting to the primary emotions in EFT allow the couple to move beyond arguing and blaming so that they can express their unmet emotional needs to each other.

At that point, the couple usually feels more motivated to work on their relationship.  They also have something more substantial to work with to make changes in their relationship rather than just blaming each other or getting stuck in a blaming/withdrawing negative cycle (more about this below).

In order to get to the primary emotions, the EFT couples therapist needs to develop a therapeutic alliance with each person in the couple so each of them feels comfortable enough to open up.  Developing this alliance can take a while, and it will be different for each person in the relationship.

Once the therapist and the clients have a good therapeutic alliance, the couple is usually more willing to look at their negative cycle.

Roles in a Relationship: Pursuer/Blamer and Withdrawer
As I mentioned in my prior article, a common dynamic in relationships is for one person to be the pursuer/blamer and the other person to be the withdrawer.

The pursuer/blamer is usually the one who is most vocal about the problems in the relationship.  After the couple has been in a negative cycle for a while, the pursuer/blamer often comes across as being angry and critical.  The more s/he feels ignored by the spouse, the more the pursuer escalates the pursuing and the blaming in order to get his or her partner's attention.

The pursuer's intention is usually not to blame or cause an argument--although that's what it usually looks like to the other spouse.  His or her intention, as previously mentioned, is to change the dynamic in the relationship, but his or her emotions are being expressed in a way that usually alienates the spouse.  As a result, the other spouse often withdraws emotionally and, at times, physically.

As part of the cycle, when the other spouse withdraws, the pursuer will pursue/blame even more to try to reach the spouse who has withdrawn.  This, of course, usually leads to the person who has withdrawn to withdraw even further, and the cycle continues to perpetuate itself.

Often, from the pursuer's perspective, if s/he hopes that if s/he escalates his or her demands and says it loud enough, the other spouse will hear it and respond. But this usually doesn't work.

From the perspective of the person who withdraws, s/he feels frustrated.  Frustration is his or her secondary emotion, the emotion that is closest to the surface.

Often, the louder and more blaming and persistent his or her spouse becomes, the more helpless and hopeless the withdrawer feels.  After a while, the withdrawer might feel that the spouse thinks s/he can't do anything right--so why even try?

As the withdrawer continues to withdraw even more, usually, from the pursuer's perspective, the withdrawer doesn't care.  S/he interprets the withdrawal to mean that the withdrawer is emotionally indifferent because this is how it appears from the outside.

But the withdrawer's internal emotional experience is usually very different.  Far from being indifferent, s/he might feel afraid and hopeless.

Obviously, not every couple fits neatly into the pursuer/withdrawer roles, but the vast majority of couples do.

This negative cycle is unsustainable long term.  It often leads to divorce--even in couples who, underneath it all, really love each other.  After a while, one or both of them finds the cycle unbearable and, not knowing what else to do, want out of the relationship.

Aside from the damage which this cycle does to each person in the relationship, without help, each individual usually brings his or her part of the dynamic into the next relationship and it starts all over again with the next person after a while.

In my next article, I'll provide a fictional clinical vignette which shows how EFT couples therapy helps couples to recognize their negative cycle and find healthier ways of relating to each other.

Over the last 30 years, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) has been a well-researched form of couples therapy that gets to the underlying issues that are causing problems in a relationship.

Rather than focusing on skills, like communication skills, EFT couples therapy recognizes that each couple that comes for help has a negative cycle which keeps them stuck, and they're unable to get to their unmet attachment needs satisfied in the relationship.

How EFT Couples Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship
Identifying the cycle and helping each individual in the relationship to discover the primary emotions that aren't being expressed is a significant part of the EFT couples therapist's role in couples therapy.

It's important for each individual in the couple to feel safe with the EFT therapist in order to allow him or herself to be emotionally vulnerable enough to move beyond surface emotions.

As part of developing emotional safety, the EFT couples therapist helps each individual in the couple to develop a therapeutic alliance with the therapist.

Another way that the EFT couples therapist helps the couple is by stressing that there are "no bad guys" in their relationship.  So, rather than blaming each other, they focus on the negative cycle and how they can change it with the help of the couples therapist.

EFT couples therapy has various stages that the therapist helps each individual in the couple to get through until they're able to meet each other's emotional needs.

Like most therapy, progress in EFT couples therapy isn't a linear process.  Even after each individual allows him or herself to be vulnerable enough to express his or her unmet emotional needs, one or both individuals often initially go back to old ways of relating that were part of the negative cycle--until the change is consolidated in couples therapy.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
There are no "magic bullets" in couples therapy (or in any therapy), but EFT couples therapy has been proven to be an effective form of couples therapy based on 30 years of research and follow up with couples after therapy has ended.

Admitting that there is a problem in your relationship and being willing to get help is the first step in improving your relationship.

Rather than remaining stuck in a negative cycle that's destroying your relationship, you and your spouse owe it to yourselves to improve your relationship with EFT.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individuals and couples, and I am trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT).

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.