NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What Happens During Stage One of Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT)?

In previous articles that I've written about Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), I provided an overview of EFT.  See my articles:

What Happens in Stage One of Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples?

In this article, I'm focusing specifically on what happens in Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.

A Closer Look at Stage One (De-escalation) of EFT Couple Therapy:

     The Therapeutic Alliance
During Stage One of EFT Couple Therapy, the EFT counselor works to form a therapeutic alliance with each partner in the relationship.  This is an essential part of any therapy because if clients don't feel comfortable with the therapist, they're not going to open up and problems won't be resolved.

It's not unusual for each member of a couple to come to couple therapy with various feelings of fear, ambivalence, hopelessness, defiance, hope, dread and many other feelings.

Sometimes, one person is more motivated to engage in couple therapy than the other.  Since it's important for both people to be engaged in the therapy before the work begins, a skilled EFT couple therapist can help each person to feel safe and more open about the process.

It's important for both people to be able to speak about their concerns about starting couple therapy, especially if they attempted it in the past or had negative experiences with a psychotherapist (see my article: What is the Negative Transference in Psychotherapy?).

     The EFT Counselor Assesses the Negative Cycle in the Relationship
Each couple, who have ongoing problems, usually has a negative cycle that they get stuck in.

During Phase One of EFT, the EFT couple therapist assesses the couple's negative cycle by listening for certain dynamics in the relationship as each person talks about his or her perspective of the problems.

The negative cycle keeps the couple looping around in a dynamic where they can't find a way out.  Instead of resolving their problems, the couple remains in this same dynamic and their problems continue to escalate.

Many relationships, which could have been salvaged if the couple understood their negative dynamic and how to change it, end because one or both people feel defeated by their inability to make changes in the relationship.

Once the EFT couple therapist recognizes the negative dynamic and presents it to the couple in an empathic way, the couple have an opportunity to explore whether the couple therapist's assessment resonates with them or if the assessment needs more fine tuning.

Being able to look at the negative dynamic in their relationship is often an eye-opening experience for both people in the relationship.  They have an opportunity to look at their own contribution to the dynamic, their partner's contribution, and how it all comes together to keep them stuck.

Rather than blaming each other for their problems, the couple can focus on making changes with the help of the couple therapist.

In most relationships, there is one person who is considered the "pursuer" and another person who is considered the "withdrawer."  Generally speaking, in a heterosexual relationship, the woman is usually the "pursuer" and the man is usually the "withdrawer."

That being said, there can also be two "pursuers" and two "withdrawers"--whether it's a heterosexual, gay or transgender couple.

     What is a "Pursuer" in a Relationship?
"Pursuers"usually try to manage the relationship through approach and repetition.  They're usually the ones who point out that there are problems in the relationship and they prefer to address the problems rather than avoid them.  They often try repeatedly to express their perspective of the problem from different angles to try to engage their partners in a conversation.  They're the ones who usually ask repeatedly for clarifications and justifications.  If they're unable to get what they consider a satisfactory response from the partner, they become frustrated and often criticize and blame the partner.

     What is a "Withdrawer" in a Relationship?
"Withdrawers" often get defensive with the "pursuers'" repeated demands and criticism.  This usually leads "withdrawers" to withdraw emotionally and often physically.  As the "pursuer" becomes more and more frustrated and angry, the disagreements escalate, and as this occurs "withdrawers" often withdraw even more.  Then, this becomes part of their negative cycle.
     The "Pursuer" in the Relationship Begins to Experience Underlying Emotions
It's essential for the couple to complete Stage One of EFT before going onto Stages Two and Three.  As previously mentioned, Stage One presents the first opportunity for change to occur.

One of the things that usually happens in Stage One that can lead to change is that the person who is the "pursuer" experiences his or her deep, underlying emotions, which often include fear of abandonment (see my article:   How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Overcome Fear of Abandonment).

In other words, rather than just focusing on his or her anger, with the help of the EFT therapist, the "pursuer" recognizes that underneath the anger, s/he is fearful that the other partner will leave.

The "pursuer" recognizes that, in the past, prior to EFT Couple Therapy, unaware of and/or unable to express this fear of abandonment, the "pursuer" continued the approach and repetition, the same dynamics that cause the "withdrawer" to feel defensive and to withdraw.

What Happens in Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?
The EFT couple therapist helps the "pursuer" to feel safe enough to tap into and express these more vulnerable emotions, and the "withdrawer" can see that, beyond the blaming and criticism, the "pursuer" is fearful.  This provides an opportunity for both people to see the underlying dynamics.

If the "withdrawer" feels safer after hearing that the partner is fearful, this provides a chance for the "withdrawer" to be less withdrawn and open up to his or her emotions rather than defensively withdrawing.  This usually allows for beginning of a de-escalation of the couple's conflicts.

I'll continue to address these issues and Stages Two and Three in EFT Couple Therapy in future articles.

See my articles:
Stage One of EFT Couple Therapy: A Clinical Example
What Happens During Stage Two of EFT Couple Therapy?

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
If you and your spouse or partner would like to salvage your relationship, you could both benefit from attending EFT Couples Therapy.

Rather than continuing to struggle with the same negative dynamic, you can both learn to recognize the pattern and change it so you can have a happier relationship.

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

I work with adult individuals 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 during business hours or email me.