NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Infidelity: How to Save Your Relationship After You Have Had an Affair

In my last article, I focused on how an injured partner can cope with intrusive thoughts and emotions after finding out about a spouse's affair.  In this article, I'm discussing what the unfaithful partner can do to try to save the relationship (see my articles: Coping With Infidelity).

Infidelity: How to Save Your Relationship an Affair

Research on infidelity reveals that 20-40% of all marriages experience some form of infidelity.  In my opinion, this is a very high number and more research needs to be done to determine why so many people cheat on their partners and what, if anything, can be done in terms of prevention.

Generally, the research reveals that men tend to cheat more than women, but women also cheat.  This article assumes that either a man or a woman is capable of cheating.

After an affair has been discovered, if the relationship is to survive, the partner who cheated has certain responsibilities, especially during the initial stage of this process.

For the Partner Who Cheated:
If you're the partner who cheated, at a minimum, you need to be willing to do the following:
  • Be Honest With Your Partner About the Infidelity: Assuming that you want to save your relationship, with time and effort, a relationship can survive infidelity if both partners are willing. What often ruins a relationship is when the partner who cheated lies about it--even when his or her partner shows evidence that the affair has been discovered.  If you want to save your relationship, rather than lying or having the truth come out piecemeal over time, answer your partner's questions honestly, thoroughly and patiently.  This isn't the time to get defensive or to become avoidant.  You owe it to your partner to be open about what happened and answer whatever questions s/he might have. If, on the other hand, you no longer want to be in your relationship, then, as difficult as it might be, you need to be honest about this and communicate this to your partner.  Sometimes, people who cheat do it unconsciously as a way to getting out of the relationship because they don't know how to tell their partner that they no longer want to be in the relationship.  Instead of communicating directly with their partner, they "act out" by having an affair.  Rather than "acting out," you need to be honest, direct (although considerate and tactful) and talk to your partner as soon as you realize you no longer want to be in the relationship.  
  • Take Responsibility For the Affair: Rather than making up excuses, take full responsibility for having the affair--regardless of the state of your relationship at the time.  Making excuses, blaming your partner or being defensive will only exacerbate the problem.  
  • Show Genuine Remorse: You have caused your partner a lot of pain and put your relationship at risk.  Don't expect to be forgiven the first, second, third or tenth time that you apologize for the affair.  You might need to apologize many, many times.  Also, your partner might not be ready to accept your apology for a while.  Surviving infidelity is a process and you will need to be sincere in showing your remorse and commitment to the relationship.  This can take months or years.  
  • Be Attuned and Empathetic to Your Partner's Pain: If you want to save your relationship, you need to show that you're attuned to your partner's feelings and that you care.  This will probably mean that you're going to be on the receiving end of your partner's rage, hurt and sadness for however long it takes your partner to forgive you--assuming that s/he does eventually forgive you.  Be willing to take in your partner's emotions.  This is not the time to try to sweep your partner's feelings under the rug or rush him or her to "move on."  Infidelity is a serious breach and a betrayal.  Unless you can show that you're emotionally present to your partner's pain, your relationship probably won't work out. 
  • Don't Dismiss Your Partner's Emotional Reaction: Related to being attuned and empathetic, don't dismiss your partner's reaction to discovering the affair.  Don't tell your partner that s/he is overreacting.  This will only reveal that you're not attuned to your partner's feelings.  Likewise, telling your partner that the "other woman" or "other man" meant nothing to you and you don't understand why your partner is so upset, will make you sound like you're being dismissive.  Even if it's true that the other person meant little or nothing to you, you have to understand that this sounds like you're making excuses and minimizing your partner's emotions. Your partner's response to this could rightfully be, "If she [he] meant nothing to you, why did you do it and risk our relationship?" If, on the other hand, your partner asks you about  your feelings towards the person you had the affair with, that's different--you can respond honestly about that.  In that case, you're responding to your partner rather than trying to minimize the affair.  Remember: Everyone is unique in terms of how s/he reacts to discovering infidelity and how long it takes (if ever) to forgive.
  • Cut Off All Ties With the Person You Cheated With: If you're serious about saving your relationship, you must cut off all ties with the "other woman" or "other man."  This is non-negotiable.  No exceptions.  You can't try to salvage your relationship while you maintain a connection with the other person.  If the other person contacts you about reconnecting to resume the affair or "to be friends," you maintain your stance that there can be no contact.  You must let your partner know that the other person contacted you so that your partner doesn't discover this on his or her own.  That would make matters worse because it would look like you're trying to hide things.
  • Deal With Triggers That Lead to Cheating: As part of your self reflection about your behavior, consider whether there are certain triggers that lead to your cheating.  For instance, if you know that drinking or drugging lead to cheating on your partner, get professional help for these issues.  If you continue to indulge in substances that usually precede cheating, you will leave yourself vulnerable to cheating and possibly lose your relationship.  Boredom is another possible trigger.  Another example is that if you know that going to certain places makes you vulnerable to cheating, avoid those places if you can or, if you can't, make a plan as to what you will do to avoid cheating and stick with that plan.  Ditto for certain online sites.  Don't delude yourself into thinking that you can be "strong" and deal with triggers.  You will only be kidding yourself, and there's too much at stake to put yourself and your relationship at risk (see my article: The Allure of the Extramarital Affair).
  • Be Willing to Demonstrate Your Accountability to Your Partner: Whether this means that you allow your partner to have access to your phone, email or other online accounts, you need to show your partner that you're willing to be an open book.  If your partner wants you to call him or her when you're working late at the office or on a business trip, do it.  Do whatever is necessary to try to regain your partner's trust (see my article: Learning to Trust Again After an Affair).
  • Work Actively to Repair and Rekindle Your Relationship: Beyond everything else that has already been mentioned above, you need to be willing to do major work on your relationship if it is going to survive.  You need to find meaningful ways to show your partner that you love him or her and that s/he is the most important person in the world to you.  If the two of you have been emotionally disconnected, find ways (once your partner is ready and willing) to reconnect emotionally.
Recognize that, ultimately, even if you're very committed to salvaging your relationship, it will be up to your partner to decide if s/he wants to remain in the relationship.  For many people, infidelity is beyond what they can forgive, and you might have to accept this as the consequence of your behavior.

Sometimes couples rush to put the pain behind them without going through the necessary emotional process of dealing with the betrayal and breach of trust.  Then, later on, they discover that just telling each other that they're "moving on" or "starting over" isn't enough.  The problem might have been swept under the rug, but it's still there.

Getting Help in Therapy
Depending upon the underlying issues that caused you to cheat, you might need individual therapy and, if and when your partner is ready, couple therapy.

Coping with the guilt and shame about an affair as well as triggering behavior can be very challenging on your own (see my article: Healing Shame in Therapy and Learning to Forgive Yourself).

Don't underestimate how easy it would be to resume an affair or start a new one, especially if you're not dealing with the root cause of your problem.  

A skilled psychotherapist, who has experience working with partners who cheat, can help you to get to the root of your problem and develop the necessary skills to remain faithful in your relationship.

Many couples, who decide they want to remain in their relationship after an affair, don't make it because they get stuck in a negative cycle and they don't know how to change it.

A skilled EFT therapist (Emotionally Focused Therapy) can help you and your partner to overcome the negative cycle so that you can rebuild trust and rekindle your relationship.

Getting help in therapy could make the difference between saving your relationship or breaking up.

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

I have helped many individuals and couples to survive infidelity.

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.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Coping With Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions About Your Spouse's Infidelity

In my prior article, I began a discussion about common reactions to infidelity experienced by each person in the relationship--the person who was injured by the infidelity as well as the person who was unfaithful (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: Infidelity: Common Reactions of Both Partners).

Coping With Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions About Your Spouse's Infidelity

In this article, I'm focusing on coping with intrusive thoughts and emotions that often come up for the injured partner.

Discovering Your Partner's Infidelity is Traumatic
Discovering that a partner cheated is a traumatic experience for the injured partner as well as for the relationship.  It can also be traumatic for the person who cheated in terms of shame, guilt, self doubt and coming to terms with the consequences of his or her behavior.

Discovering that your spouse has been unfaithful is one of the biggest challenges you will face in your life because you placed your trust in your spouse only to discover this betrayal and violation.

Whether you decide to end your relationship or you try to salvage it, there are often recurring intrusive thoughts and emotions that can be powerful and overwhelming (see my article: Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship?).

Finding ways to cope with these intrusive thoughts and emotions is important in terms of surviving the discovery of infidelity.

Experiencing Flooding and Intrusive Thoughts After Discovering the Infidelity
Finding out that your spouse has been unfaithful is shocking.  It can feel like your whole world suddenly stopped.

Your relationship can feel "unreal" because you assumed that your spouse was faithful and then discovered that s/he wasn't.  You can also feel that you don't really know the person that you're in a relationship with (see my article: Betrayal: Coping With the Feeling That You Don't Really Know Your Spouse).

In many ways, it can feel like the ground below your feet has given way and you're in a free fall (see my article: Coping With Infidelity).

A common reaction to coping with infidelity is feeling flooded with overwhelming thoughts and emotions.  This sense of flooding can come on suddenly without warning and can occur often, especially during the initial stage of your coping with the infidelity.

Flooding includes intrusive thoughts and emotions about the infidelity.  Even if you don't want to think about it, these thoughts come unbidden and seem to take over.

Fear and anxiety can escalate to the point where you feel panicky.

Examples of Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions
  • Wanting a very detailed account from your spouse of what happened sexually between the other person and your spouse (when, where, how, what, with whom).  Having graphic details often fuels more flooding, so you will need to be self protective about what and how much you need to know.
  • Imagining your partner having sex with the "other woman" or "other man" and feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling inadequate or unattractive
  • Feeling confused about why your spouse cheated on you
  • Raging against your spouse for violating your trust and creating problems in your relationship
  • Experiencing profound sadness, grief, loss, and crying
  • Re-experiencing childhood trauma related to betrayal, mistrust, physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect (i.e., current trauma can trigger earlier trauma)
And so on.

Experiencing Intrusive Thoughts and Emotions Related to Your Spouse's Infidelity is Normal
Although you might feel like your thoughts and emotions are out of control, it's normal and common for the injured partner to have intrusive thoughts and emotions.

Even though it can be very difficult, it's important for you to allow yourself to the time and space to experience your feelings, although you don't want to spend all of your time immersed in these experiences.

In other words, rather than avoiding or stuffing your feelings, you need to allow yourself to feel the sadness, grief, anger and frustration that will inevitably come up after you have discovered your spouse's infidelity.

No one wants to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings, but the more you try to suppress your experiences, the more they will come up again and again--even stronger than before.

You're also more likely to "act out" based on suppressed thoughts and emotions if you don't allow yourself to experience them.  So, for instance, rather than experiencing them, you might act on them by contacting the "other woman" or "other man" or "taking revenge" against your spouse by going out and having an affair yourself.  These actions will only serve to make matters much worse, and you'll end up feeling badly about yourself.

Even though you might feel like you're having these intrusive thoughts and emotions all the time, there are usually periods when these experiences peak and then, eventually, subside over time.

Having coping strategies can help you to experience these thoughts and emotions and release them as they come up.

Coping Strategy: Keeping a Journal
  • Writing in a journal is one way to let go of intrusive thoughts and emotions.
  • Writing when you feel flooded is a release.  Rather than go over and over these thoughts and emotions in your mind and heart, you can externalize these experiences in writing as a way to temporarily release them.
  • Allowing yourself the privacy and time to release your thoughts and emotions in writing can feel freeing.
  • Knowing that this is a process, you won't expect that you'll only do this once and you'll permanently feel better.  Instead, you're looking for temporary relief until these experiences eventually subside (everyone is different in terms of how long these experiences last).
Coping Strategy: Using Your Emotional Support System
  • Sharing your experiences with a trusted friend or family member can be freeing if it's the right person.  If your spouse is the person that you usually rely on for emotional support, you might be ambivalent, at best, about sharing your thoughts and feelings with him or her right after you discover the affair. 
  • Sharing your experiences with your spouse eventually is important, especially if you want to salvage your relationship.  It's part of the healing process for both of you.  It's important for you to be able to express how you feel and it's important for your spouse to hear about the pain that s/he caused you so that you can both heal over time.
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member can prevent you from making destructive mistakes--like taking revenge and "acting out" by cheating.  As previously mentioned, that would only make matters worse.
  • Choosing someone who can be emotionally attuned to you, not judgmental and not invested in giving you advice about staying or leaving the relationship is important.  This person just needs to listen and provide emotional support in ways that would be helpful to you.
Coping Strategy: Getting Help in Therapy
  • Attending psychotherapy with a psychotherapist who has professional experience with infidelity is often helpful.  
  • Getting help with how to process your thoughts and feelings is important.  A psychotherapist who has experiencing helping injured partners can assist you to process your experiences so that you can eventually make decisions about your life as an individual and your life with your spouse.
  • Overcoming the self doubts, doubts about your spouse and the future of relationship, fear, rage, sadness, and frustration are essential parts of healing from infidelity.
  • Putting the shattered pieces of your life back together so that you can heal over time is another essential part of therapy for injured spouses.
About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and EFT couple therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many spouses individually and together as a couple to deal with the aftermath of infidelity.

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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

EFT Couple Therapy - After the Affair: Common Reactions of Both Partners

Infidelity is one of the most challenging issues for a relationship.  Some couples don't make it after an affair has been discovered.  For the couples who try to salvage their relationship, grief, fear and doubt are major obstacles, which is why Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT) for couples addresses these issues in an effort to repair the relationship (see my articles: Coping With Infidelity and Infidelity: Your Spouse Cheated on You. Should You Stay or Should You Go?).

EFT Couple Therapy - After the Affair: Common Reactions of Both Partners
In my prior article, I provided a fictional vignette, which is typical of what many couples experience in EFT couple therapy when they're trying to work through issues involved with infidelity.

This article will focus on the most common reactions that the injured partner and the partner who cheated usually have.

Each person must be willing to weather the storm that infidelity causes, including feelings of betrayal, abandonment, rejection, broken trust, grief, fear and doubt, if they want to work through their problems.

If, prior to the discovery of infidelity, the couple already had a negative dynamic and engaged in fixed roles of pursuer and distancer, they will use the same maladaptive coping strategies to overcome this crisis, which is why so many couples don't survive infidelity--even many who want to save their relationship (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Stuck).

Common Reactions For the Injured Partner
Infidelity brings many powerful emotions for the injured partner, including:
  • Anger: Anger and rage are common reactions to the betrayal and violation of infidelity.  
  • Avoidance: A common coping strategy is emotional avoidance with regard to interacting with the partner who cheated.  This might mean that the injured partner might ask the other partner to leave the household temporarily or permanently.  The injured partner might vacillate between being volatile and enraged to emotionally distancing him or herself.
  • Hurt/Sadness: Contending with the betrayal, shattered assumptions, doubts, fears and grief often lead to feelings of deep sadness and hurt.
  • Vigilance: Loss of trust, fear and uncertainty can lead to vigilance on the part of the injured partner to monitor the other partner's activities, phone calls, texts, email, and so on. However, no matter how vigilant the injured partner might be, it will never feel like enough to regain trust.
  • Powerlessness: Discovering an affair that was going on without the injured partner's knowledge can lead to the feeling that "anything can happen at any time in this relationship" and s/he cannot trust it and has no control over it.  Loss of confidence and an ability to influence the partner who cheated can cause the injured partner to feel powerless.
  • Self Doubt: The injured partner often feels like s/he isn't enough for his/her partner.
  • Fear of Abandonment: Feeling rejected and a sense of low self worth with regard to the affair can create a fear of abandonment.  There is often a sense that the relationship isn't safe anymore and abandonment by the partner who cheated feels like a real possibility.
Common Reactions For the Partner Who Cheated
A partner who cheated also experiences certain common reactions after the affair has been discovered:
  • Defensiveness: It can be challenging for the partner who cheated to deal with the injured partner's vacillating anger and emotional avoidance.  Many partners who cheated will be defensive about the affair in order to protect themselves from the rage and sadness experienced by the injured partner.  The partner who cheated might shut down emotionally in order to avoid dealing with the injured partner's emotions or because s/he doesn't know what to do to repair the relationship.
  • Guilt: S/he will usually feel deep remorse, regret and guilt for his or her actions and for the pain caused to the injured partner and the relationship.
  • Shame: Trying to cope with behavior that led to infidelity can create deep feelings of shame where the person who cheated questions his or her own self worth.
  • Sadness: Knowing that his or her actions created a crisis in the relationship usually causes the partner to feel sad about the pain the affair inflicted on the other partner and the relationship.  
  • Relief: Many people, who are having an affair, are actually relieved that the truth is now out.  Prior to the discovery of the affair, the partner who cheated is often worried about being found out, so there is some relief that s/he no longer has to hide the affair.
  • Doubt: After the discovery of the affair, there is often uncertainty as to whether the couple will stay together or not.  Even if they want to try to save their relationship, there is no guarantee that the relationship will survive the emotional upheaval that the discovery of an affair brings.
There is no particular order for these common reactions for the injured partner or the partner who cheated.  Many people go back and forth through these reactions--even people who want to work things out.

I'll expand upon this topic in a future article.

Getting Help in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples:
Many relationships, which could have been salvaged, end because the couples get stuck in a negative cycle and don't know how to change it.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples, which was developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, helps people to change the negative dynamic that keeps them stuck so they can have a healthier and happier relationship.

If you and your partner have been unable to resolve your problems, you could benefit from working with a couple therapist who uses EFT.

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

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 during business hours or email me.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples: Are You Reaching For Each Other or Turning Away?

In a healthy relationship both people are able to reach towards each other during times of conflict.  However, during ongoing conflict in a relationship, reaching towards each other for love and support becomes increasingly difficult.  During those times, a couple might turn away from each other rather than face their problems together.  This is why re-establishing the emotional connection is a key part of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples?).

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples: Are You Reaching Towards Each Other or Turning Away?
Part of Stage 1 work in EFT couple therapy is helping the couple to recognize the negative pattern that they've been stuck in.  Once they can see the negative pattern and the roles that each of them play, the EFT couple therapist helps them to reach towards each other and work on this issue together (see my article: Stage 1 of EFT Couple Therapy: A Clinical Example).

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Turning Towards Each Other to Overcome the Negative Pattern
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how a couple, who were initially turning away from each other, learn to reach for each other in EFT couple therapy so they can overcome the negative dynamic in their relationship:

Ed and Bob
After being together for 10 years, Bob found out that Ed was having an affair with another man.   Feeling angry and betrayed, Bob told Ed that he would only remain with him if they went to couple therapy to see if they could salvage their relationship.

When they arrived for their initial consultation, their EFT couple therapist noted that they sat at opposite ends of the couch and barely looked at one another.  Initially, Bob was the one who was more engaged in the session, and he talked about how angry he was since he discovered the sexually explicit pictures of another man on Ed's phone, including pictures of this other man and Ed together.

"When we first started seeing each other, "Bob explained to the therapist, "we talked about whether we wanted to have an open relationship where we would remain primary to each other but we could see other people, but we decided not to.  Since that time, I've honored our agreement and I never cheated on Ed.  That's why I felt so betrayed when I found out that Ed was having an affair.  It made me question everything about our relationship and if Ed really loves me."

While Bob was speaking, Ed was looking down at the floor.  Even though it appeared that he was disengaged with the conversation, the EFT couple therapist could see that he looked tense and there was probably a lot going on inside of him, so she invited him to speak.

"Like I told Bob," Ed said with tension in his voice, "He and I haven't been having sex lately.  He works late and then comes home tired.  So, I met this guy at the gym about a month ago and we began having an affair.  I know it was wrong, but it's not anything serious.  I still love Bob and I'm hoping we can work things out."

As they discussed their relationship and how they usually interact, the EFT couple therapist could see that, generally, conflicts tended not to be resolved and resentment had built up over time.  One problem piled on top of another.  This was their pattern.

With regard to the roles that they were in, Bob was more of the pursuer who tried to get to the bottom of their problems, but he said he was constantly frustrated by how Ed would emotionally distance himself whenever he wanted to talk to Ed about a problem (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship).

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples: Are You Reaching Towards Each Other or Turning Away?
Ed was more of a distancer who was uncomfortable talking about relationship issues.  He said he agreed to come to couple therapy because he knew the infidelity was a serious issue and he didn't want to lose Bob.  He also agreed, prior to attending their initial consultation, to stop seeing the other man, and he said he had no contact with him since the day when Bob found the pictures.

Part of the work during Stage 1 of their EFT couple therapy was for the couple therapist to help them to de-escalate.  Bob, in particular, was so angry about the affair that he would often criticize and blame Ed for the problems in the relationship and Ed, in turn, would shut down emotionally.  Due to this dynamic, they weren't connecting with each other.

The couple therapist helped Bob and Ed to see that, rather than working together to overcome the negative dynamic in their relationship, they were turning away from each other.  She told them that if their relationship was going to survive, they would need to work together to change how they interacted with one another.

So, over time, the couple therapist helped Bob to get beyond his secondary emotion, anger, to the deeper emotions he was experiencing about the infidelity--the hurt and sadness, his primary emotions.  Once Bob was able to stop criticizing and blaming and communicate his sadness and hurt to Ed, Ed opened up more emotionally.

Although Ed had apologized many times to Bob about the infidelity, when Bob revealed his hurt and sadness, Ed's apology came with deeper remorse and compassion for the pain that he caused Bob and the damage he did to the relationship.

Trusting Ed again wasn't easy for Bob.  At first, he was suspicious whenever Ed received a text message.  Ed knew that he needed to work hard to regain Bob's trust, so he was willing to check in with Bob whenever he had to stay late at the office.  He also allowed Bob to look at his phone.

In the meantime, they continued to communicate to each other from their deepest genuine emotions, as they learned in EFT couple therapy, rather than allowing defensive emotions to get in the way.

As part of their work in couple therapy, they both were aware of when they were starting to engage in their negative dynamic.  They even developed a code word to use to signal to one another when it was happening again.  The agreement was that when either of them used the code word, they would stop arguing, take a few minutes and share with each other what was going on.

Rather than focus on their anger, they focused on the emotions they were each experiencing underneath the anger.  This allowed them to shift out of the negative dynamic, talk about their problem, and show compassion for one another.

In other words, rather than turning away from each other, Bob and Ed turned towards each other as a united front to overcome the negative dynamic.  They were no longer blaming or distancing.  They were emotionally connected, and they were closer than they had ever been in their relationship.

When there's conflict in a relationship, a common pattern is for each person to turn away from each other by blaming or distancing.  By remaining stuck in this pattern, the couple is unable to resolve their problems.

An EFT couple therapist will assess the negative pattern and the roles that each person is stuck in, educate the couple, and help them to work together (rather than against each other) to change the negative pattern and get out of rigid pursuer/distancer roles.

Reaching for each other and working together to change the negative pattern are hopeful signs that the relationship can be salvaged.

Getting Help in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples
Trying to change a negative pattern in your relationship can be very difficult to do on your own, especially if the pattern is a longstanding one.

If you and your partner are stuck, you could benefit from seeing an EFT couple therapist.  An EFT therapist can help you to see the negative pattern and work together to change the pattern.

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

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 during business hours or email me.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Experiential Psychotherapy: Overcoming the Secondary Emotion of Shame to Get to Core Issues

Shame is a secondary emotion when it masks deeper, underlying primary emotions (see my article: Healing Shame in Psychotherapy).  In this article, I'm focusing on how experiential therapy helps to get beyond secondary emotions, like shame, to work on primary emotions and core issues (see my article: Experiential Psychotherapy: Learning to Experience and Communicate About Your More Vulnerable Emotions).

Experiential Psychotherapy: Overcoming the Secondary Emotion of Shame to Get to Core Issues

Since making personal changes involves accessing vulnerable emotions (primary emotions) and communicating from this innermost place, avoiding these emotions is a significant obstacle to change (in this article, I will be using the terms: primary emotions, innermost emotions, vulnerable emotions and similar terms, interchangeably.  All of these terms refer to the same phenomenon).

Whether someone is in individual psychotherapy or in couple therapy, a skilled experiential psychotherapist can help the client to access and communicate from his or her primary emotions.

Experiential therapy is more effective than talk therapy for accessing underlying emotions.  Whether the experiential therapy is EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy), AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) or EFT  (Emotionally Focused Therapy) for couples, each of these therapies emphasizes the importance of the mind-body connection, which allows access to primary emotions (see my article: Why Experiential Psychotherapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Experiential Psychotherapy - Overcoming the Secondary Emotion of Shame to Get to Core Issues
The following fictional clinical vignette, which is similar to many psychotherapy cases, illustrates how experiential therapy helps to get beyond secondary emotions, like shame, to access primary emotions, like sadness and hurt:

After several years of attending regular talk therapy, Tom decided to work with an experiential psychotherapist who used a mind-body oriented approach to therapy.  Although he felt he understood his problems better based on the talk therapy that he did, he continued to have the same problems in his relationship and he was no closer to resolving these issues--even though he understood them better (see my article: Healing From the Inside Out: Why Understanding Your Problems Isn't Enough).

Tom explained to his new experiential therapist that his wife often complained that he shut down emotionally whenever she wanted to talk to him about their relationship.  She told him that she was feeling increasingly frustrated that she couldn't talk to him and, as a result, she was feeling lonely in their relationship.  Rather than start with couple therapy, Tom's wife asked him to get help first in individual therapy to address this problem.

Tom acknowledged that this was not the first time that he had been told that he tends to shut down when relationship issues arise.  In fact, he said, two prior girlfriends told him the same thing, and his inability to remain emotionally present during these type of discussions led to the demise of those prior relationships.  Tom said he didn't want this problem to ruin his marriage, so he agreed to seek help in individual therapy.

When his new therapist asked Tom to recall a recent incident where his wife wanted to talk about their relationship and Tom avoided the conversation, Tom said that this occurred a few days ago.

His therapist asked him to go back into that memory and recall what he was experiencing physically and emotionally at the time.  After a few tries, Tom said, "I just can't do it.  It's too uncomfortable."

His therapist explained that, in order to address his problem, it would be necessary to revisit the experience in a visceral way.  She suggested that they could titrate the work into manageable pieces so that Tom wouldn't get overwhelmed.  

Specifically, she suggested that when Tom recalled the memory that he begin to sense into what he felt in his body and if he began to feel overwhelmed, he could take a break.  At first, Tom hesitated, but then he realized that he would rather experience some discomfort in therapy than continue having this problem and risk his marriage.  

So, Tom began again by recalling that he was sitting on the couch in the living room when his wife entered the room.  He remembered seeing a worried look on her face and when he saw this, his stomach muscles began to clinch.  He also remembered feeling queasy and thinking, "Uh-ho, this isn't going to be good."

At that point, Tom told the therapist that he needed to take a break from this memory because he was feeling queasy in the therapy session.  She agreed, so he opened his eyes and he felt better when he saw the look of compassion on his therapist's face.  He realized that his therapist was attuned to what he was experiencing and he wasn't alone in his experience.

When his queasiness subsided, Tom re-entered memory to recall what happened next.  He remembered that his wife came to sit next to him and she placed her hand on his arm saying, "We need to talk about our relationship."

Tom remembered, at that point, he felt physically numb all over his body.  At the same time, his heart was pounding in his chest, and he felt like he wanted to run out of the room.  He remembered thinking to himself, "She's onto me!  She realizes that I'm a failure as a husband and as a man and she wants to leave me!  What will I do if she leaves me?"

He remembered trying to stay calm--even though he wanted to bolt from the room.  At the same time, he told his wife that he was "tired" and he wasn't up to having this discussion.  But when he saw the look of disappointment on his wife's face, he knew he couldn't stay in the room anymore, and he got up abruptly and went for a walk.

As he was leaving the apartment, he remembered hearing his wife saying in a hurt tone, "We need to talk.  You never want to talk about our relationship."

When he returned a few hours later, Tom recalled that his wife was already asleep in their bedroom.  He didn't want to wake her, so he took his pillow and a blanket into the living room and laid down for a few sleepless hours, tossing and turning, before he finally fell asleep as the sun was coming up.

At the end of the session, his therapist asked Tom what it was like to re-experience these emotions in her presence.  Tom thought about it for a few seconds and he said that it wasn't as bad as he anticipated.  He said he appreciated being able to titrate the work and take a break when he felt overwhelmed. He said it gave him a sense of control and that working this way felt more manageable to him.  He told her that he also appreciated her empathy, which made the work bearable.

When Tom came for his next therapy session, his therapist recommended that they go back to the same memory they had been working on the last time.  She told Tom that, in order to get to the core issues, they would slow everything down as if they were watching a movie frame by frame.

Having already had a session where he was asked to re-experience his memory, Tom didn't feel nearly as hesitant as he did the first time.  So, he re-entered the memory and, as his therapist recommended, he slowed everything down.

By slowing down the process, Tom had greater access to physical sensations and emotions that he didn't notice when he recalled the memory during the prior therapy session.  Specifically, he recalled that when his wife said that they needed to talk about their relationship, aside from the queasiness, numbing, and the "uh-ho" feeling, his hands became sweaty and he experienced a lightheadedness.

His therapist recommended that they use a clinical hypnosis technique called the Affect Bridge to go back to the earliest time when Tom recalled feeling this way.  She said this would help them to understand what was getting triggered in him.  She helped Tom to do the Affect Bridge by telling him to sense into the physical sensations, where he felt them in his body and go back to the earliest time in his life when he felt this way.

At first, Tom said nothing was coming up for him, but his therapist encouraged him to take all the time he needed to go back to the earliest time.  So, Tom went back into the physical sensations associated with the memory, and he was surprised with what he came up with.

"This doesn't make any sense," Tom told his therapist when he opened his eyes again, "I don't see the connection between the experience with my wife and what came up with me just now.  There must be some mistake."

His therapist explained that sometimes earlier memories come up that appear to be unrelated to the current situation, but there are usually emotions that connect the experience from the past with the experience from the present.  Then, she encouraged Tom to talk about what came up for him during the Affect Bridge.

Tom thought about it for a few seconds, shrugged his shoulders and then proceeded to talk about the memory that came up, "What came up for me was a memory of being in the third grade and standing up on the auditorium stage during a class play.  I had the lead role in the play and, prior to the performance, I had my lines down pat and I felt good about it.  But when I was on stage that day, I looked down and saw my father's stern face and everything went out of my head.  I couldn't remember a single word.  My teacher had to prompt me throughout the whole play.  I was so ashamed, but when I looked down into the audience after the play was over, I realized that my father had disappeared.  When I got home, my father was sitting in his favorite chair reading the newspaper.  I hoped to creep up to my room without my father seeing me.  But, from behind his newspaper, he said to me, 'You were terrible today.  You really made me feel ashamed and disappointed to be your father.  You're never going to amount to anything.'"

Then, Tom broke down and cried in his therapy session, "All I ever wanted to do was please my father, but he kept telling me how ashamed and disappointed in me he was--no matter what I did.  I felt like such a loser."

When Tom felt calmer, he told his therapist that he could feel the connection between the incident with his wife and the memory he had about his father.  In both experiences, he saw their disappointment and he felt tremendous shame (see my article: Understanding Why You're Affected By Trauma From a Long Time Ago).

In subsequent therapy sessions, Tom's therapist helped him to sense beyond his shame into his innermost, primary emotions.

Initially, it was difficult for Tom to go to his more vulnerable emotions, which turned out to be sadness and hurt.  His therapist explained to him that his difficulty was understandable since he spent most of his life trying to avoid these emotions.  She also explained that if they were going to work through his issues of emotional distancing with his wife, they needed to be able to go there.  However, she worked at a pace in therapy that felt safe for Tom.

Tom continued in individual therapy and he and his wife also began Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples.  As he got more comfortable with his vulnerable emotions, he was able to communicate, based on these emotions, in a deeper, more genuine way with his wife.  This allowed his wife to open up too in couple therapy, and they began to strengthen their emotional connection.

Secondary emotions, like anger and shame, defensively mask primary emotions, like sadness and hurt.  This is usually an unconscious process and part of an emotional survival strategy that developed early in life.

Although emotional survival strategies usually help to keep a person from feeling overwhelmed, especially as a child, these same strategies get in the way for an adult.

Talk therapy can help you to develop insight into your problem, but when it comes to issues related to trauma, it often doesn't resolve the issue because it's a "top down" therapy (see my article: What's the Difference Between "Top Down" and "Bottom Up" Approaches to Therapy?).

Experiential therapy is a "bottom up" therapy which, among other things, allows clients to use the mind-body connection to get to deeper issues that are being masked by secondary emotions.  

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
As I mentioned previously, there are numerous types of experiential therapy for individuals and couples, including EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, AEDP, clinical hypnosis and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples.

All of these experiential therapies use a bottom-up approach that usually gets to the root of the problem faster than regular talk therapy, which can remain an intellectualized experience.

If you're struggling with unresolved problems, you owe it to yourself to work with an experiential therapist who can help you to get to the core issues that are creating obstacles for you (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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

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 during business hours or email me.

Friday, September 14, 2018

EFT Couple Therapy: Learning to Ask Your Spouse For What You Need Emotionally

In my last article, Experiential Psychotherapy: Learning to Experience and Communicate About Your More Vulnerable Emotions, I discussed how experiential psychotherapy provides an opportunity for you to understand your most vulnerable (primary) emotions so you can get to know yourself better and develop a more genuine connection to your partner (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy and What's the Difference Between "Top Down" and "Bottom Up" Therapy?).

One of the challenges, as I mentioned in the article, is sensing these vulnerable emotions, allowing yourself to feel them, and express them to your partner (see my articles: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples?What Happens During Stage One of EFT? and What Happens During Stage Two of EFT?).

EFT Couple Therapy: Learning to Ask Your Spouse For What You Need Emotionally

In this article, I'm focusing on how you can use these emotions to understand what you need emotionally and how to ask you partner to meet your needs.

For people who grew up as children where their emotional needs weren't taken into account or their needs were dismissed, it's especially challenging as an adult to ask a partner for what they need.

As children, these people internalized the message that they aren't important or that they're unlovable so they're not entitled to have their emotional needs met (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later On In Adult Relationships?).

They often feel ashamed of their emotional needs--as if they shouldn't have these needs.  Shame is also another obstacle in terms of asking to have their emotional needs met--assuming they haven't suppressed their emotional needs so thoroughly that they no longer know what they need (see my article: Healing Shame in Therapy).

Many adults, who were emotionally neglected as children, hope that their partner will somehow intuit what they need without being asked.  This is complicated by the fact that these same adults often hide their emotional needs from themselves as well as their partner, so the partner is left in the dark.  This dynamic often creates problems in the relationship.

As I've mentioned in prior articles, a major focus of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is the attachment needs of each person in the relationship, how to discover their emotional needs, and how to express them.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: EFT Couple Therapy: Learning to Ask Your Spouse For What You Need Emotionally
The following fictional vignette illustrates how Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples can help a couple reconnect emotionally based on being able to ask for what they need emotionally:

Ann and Bill
After three years of marriage, Ann and Bill realized that they were feeling emotionally disconnected from each other, and they decided to begin Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples to salvage their relationship.

Bill explained to their EFT couple therapist that he often felt confused and annoyed by their frequent arguments.  He said that they had gotten into a negative pattern where Ann would blame him for not anticipating what she needed from him emotionally, but when he asked her what she needed, she refused to tell him.  She would tell him that he "should know," which made him angry and frustrated.  He couldn't understand why she wouldn't tell him.  He would often tell her, "I'm not a mind reader" (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Stuck).

As an example, Bill recalled a recent argument where Ann complained that she would have liked Bill to express more compassion when she came home from a rough day at work.  She told him, in an angry tone, that she would have liked him to give her a hug and tell her that it was all going to be alright.

"But," Bill told the couple therapist, "The time before when I tried to hug Ann when she complained about work, she got tense and said she had to cook dinner.  Then, she pulled away from me.  It was obvious that she didn't want me to hug her, and I felt rejected.  So, how was I to know that she wanted to be hugged and comforted the next time?"

Ann acknowledged that she often felt like she wanted to be comforted by Bill when she was upset, but when she actually experienced Bill comforting her, she felt uncomfortable, "I love Bill, and I want the emotional comfort from him, but when he actually comforts me, I feel worse.  I know I sometimes give mixed messages and I don't know why" (see my article: The Connection Between Ambivalence and Mixed Messages).

Bill seemed relieved to hear Ann acknowledge that she gave mixed messages and looked at Ann with concern.

The EFT couple therapist asked Bill and Ann about their family histories as one way to determine their attachment styles.  Bill talked about growing up with loving parents.  His childhood was complicated by his father's extended period of being unemployed.

Bill was aware from a young age that his parents were concerned about money, but he always got the sense from them that they would eventually be alright and he didn't need to worry.  And, in fact, his father did find another job and their financial situation improved.  There were no significant traumatic events in Bill's childhood.

When it was Ann's turn to talk about her childhood, she talked about her history in a somewhat disjointed way.  As opposed to how articulate and organized she had been up until that point, when she talked about her childhood, Ann discussed her childhood in a somewhat tangential and disorganized manner, "Well, I think my parents did the best that they could under the circumstances.  My mother...was okay, but, you know...My father was around sometimes...I was mostly on my own because my was hard for them..."

From Ann's disjointed, disorganized manner of speaking, the EFT couple therapist realized that Ann probably had significant attachment issues because people with attachment problems, especially disorganized attachment, often present in this way when they're talking about their childhood history (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

It turned out that Ann's parents struggled in their relationship and they also had financial problems.  The mother worked three jobs and the father was in and out of the household.  As an only child, Ann often had to fend for herself at a young age.  She grew up feeling that she couldn't ask for anything for herself, and when she was upset or needed comfort, she felt ashamed of her needs.

Ann's mother often told Ann that she had to be "a big girl" (even though Ann was a young child) and "not to complain" because the mother and father were already overwhelmed.  Ann usually felt like she was "walking on eggshells" when she was at home, and she was often lonely.  Since her parents didn't have any contact with their families, there was no one else around to comfort Ann, so she usually cried herself to sleep.

Ann remembered a few times when her father would come home and be affectionate with her, but she never knew when he would be around and what mood he would be in when he was around.  Due to his erratic nature, Ann learned how to avoid getting too happy or excited when he paid attention to her because she never knew how long it would last or when she would see him again.

After hearing Ann's childhood history, the EFT couple therapist had a better understanding of Ann's dynamic with Bill.  She understood that Ann wanted and needed comfort when she felt unhappy but, based on her childhood experiences, she also felt a lot of shame about needing comfort, which is why she distanced herself from Bill.  It was also very difficult for her to ask Bill for comfort because, on some level, she felt she didn't deserve it.

On another level, Ann hoped that Bill would just intuit what she needed emotionally, but when he did and he expressed affection, she felt ashamed and uncomfortable.  This left Ann caught in an emotional dilemma of both wanting affection but feeling ashamed when she got it (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

As Ann worked in couple therapy to access her more vulnerable, primary emotions, she was able to sense beyond her shame to her fear and sadness for all the times, especially as a child, when she needed affection and nurturing and she didn't get it.

Gradually, over time, Ann began to accept that she was "normal" for wanting comfort when she was upset.  Initially, her understanding occurred solely on a cognitive level, as she thought about other people's emotional needs and that everyone is hardwired for love and nurturing from birth.

Over time in couple therapy, Ann was able to get beyond a cognitive understanding to have a deeper emotional understanding and acceptance of her emotional needs, and she no longer felt ashamed.  She also felt a deep compassion for her younger self, who was so emotionally deprived (see my article: Having Compassion For the Child That You Were).

Bill told the EFT couple therapist that their dynamic and Ann's distancing herself now made sense to him, and he wanted to do whatever he could to try to help Ann feel comfortable.

With regard to their relationship, the emotional breakthrough came one day when Ann came home one day feeling upset about an incident at work.  She told the EFT couple therapist in their next session that, as she was telling Bill about it, she felt something shift for her emotionally.

She said she looked at Bill, hesitated for a second, and then told him that she needed him to hold her. Bill immediately took her into his arms and held her tight.  Then, Ann said, she felt a tremendous wave of sadness come over her from deep inside her.

At first, she said, she felt like she would fall into an abyss of sadness and she cried for what seemed to her a long time.  All the while, Bill continued to hold and comfort her, and she was able to take in his love without distancing herself.  Even though, initially, she felt like she would drown in her own sadness, after a while, she felt the wave of sadness subside, and she had a sense of relief.

EFT Couple Therapy: Learning to Ask Your Spouse For What You Need Emotionally
Ann explained to the couple therapist that, since that day, she was feeling increasingly more relaxed with allowing Bill to be affectionate to her when she felt "down."  With the help of the couple therapist, she was able to separate her past emotional neglect and feelings of not deserving love from her current relationship, so she no longer felt ashamed of her emotional needs (see my article: Coping With Trauma: Separating the Past From the Present).

Bill and Ann knew that they needed to continue to attend EFT couple therapy to consolidate the gains that they had made so far, but they both acknowledged that Ann's breakthrough led to a significant improvement in their relationship.

For adults who were traumatized by abuse or emotional neglect, asking to have their emotional needs met is fraught with problems.  In childhood, based on their experiences with their parents, they come to feel that their emotional needs aren't important.  This causes them to feel ashamed.  Over time, they often learn to emotionally dissociate themselves from these needs so that they're no longer in touch with them.

Distancing themselves from their emotional needs as children is an emotional survival strategy that worked at the time to keep them from feeling overwhelmed by their needs (see my article: Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work).

As adults, this same emotional survival strategy causes problems for them as well as their relationships.  The emotional needs, although suppressed, are still there deep down so that these emotions come to the surface from time to time.  But when these emotions come to the surface, it creates a conflict and dilemma of wanting love and, at the same time, feeling ashamed for having this need.

This conflict and dilemma often results in the adult giving mixed messages to his or her partner and unconsciously wishing that the partner could intuit his or her emotional needs.  At the same time, before working on these issues in therapy, the adult often becomes avoidant when s/he gets what she deeply wants because of the shame it elicits.

In EFT couple therapy, the therapist assesses the negative pattern that the couple keeps getting into and the go-to roles that they play (usually as either the distancer or the pursuer).  She also gets each person's family history to understand the attachment styles of each person and how these styles come together in the relationship.

Learning to access and communicate about their most vulnerable needs can be challenging for a couple because it's an emotional risk--especially for people who have a childhood history of emotional neglect or abuse.

Being able to ask for what they is a big step for a couple.  It strengthens the relationship and helps to create a genuine emotional connection between them.

Getting Help in EFT Couple Therapy
EFT has been well researched and is a state of the art form of couple therapy developed by Dr. Sue Johnson.

If you and your partner are stuck in a negative dynamic or fixed roles that are creating conflict and emotional disconnection, you owe it to yourselves to get help in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples.

Working with an EFT couple therapist can help you to develop healthier, more loving ways of relating in your relationship, which will strengthen your bond to each other.

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

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 during business hours or email me.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Experiential Psychotherapy: Learning to Experience and Communicate Your More Vulnerable Emotions

Allowing yourself to experience your primary emotions, which are your most immediate, innermost vulnerable emotions, helps you to understand yourself on a much deeper level.  Experiencing these emotions and communicating with your spouse or partner about it also helps you to have a more genuine connection in your relationship.

Experiential Psychotherapy: Learning to Experience and Communicate Your Most Vulnerable Emotions

In this article, I'll be using the terms "primary emotions," "innermost emotions" and "more vulnerable emotions" interchangeably because these terms all refer to the same emotions.

The challenge for most people is that they're often afraid to feel their innermost emotions because they feel too vulnerable.  Often, people who are fearful of experiencing their more vulnerable emotions mask these emotions with secondary emotions to avoid feeling vulnerable.

So, for instance, if the primary emotion is hurt or sadness, they might unconsciously mask these emotions with secondary emotions of anger or frustration because these secondary emotions help them defend against feeling so vulnerable. 

Learning to Experience Your More Vulnerable Emotions
As I've discussed in prior articles, couples who communicate with each other based on secondary emotions often remain stuck in a negative pattern.  In order to make changes to improve their relationship, they need to have access to their primary emotions so they can communicate to their partner from an authentic place within themselves.

Even for people who see the value in experiencing their primary emotions, accessing these emotions can be a challenge, especially if they have been masking them for a long time with secondary emotions.  So they need to learn how to access primary emotions.

Most of the experiential therapies, like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, Somatic Experiencing, AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), and EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) For Couples, place a strong emphasis on primary emotions because accessing these emotions is what allows for positive change.

The experiential therapies also emphasize the connection between the mind and the body (the mind-body connection) and that primary emotions can be accessed through the body because the body is the container for these emotions (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Fictional Clinical Vignette:  Experiential Psychotherapy: Learning to Experience the More Vulnerable Emotions 
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how a client can access her more vulnerable emotions by using her body:

Meg and Tom began Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples because they were growing apart.

Even though they both wanted to be closer to one another, they didn't know how to overcome the emotional distance that was taking over their relationship after five years of being together.  

Tom explained to their EFT couple therapist that he realized that when he and Meg argued, he would become frightened that Meg was going to leave him.  In EFT language, Tom was the ""pursuer"" in the relationship.  When there was tension between Tom and Meg, he felt desperate to try to repair things between them as quickly as possible.

He wanted, in his words "to leave no stone unturned" to "get to the bottom" of their problems.  By his own admission, he could be relentless in terms of wanting to discuss their relationship in order to improve things between them.  

Since he had been in a lot of individual experiential therapy before, Tom understood that when they argued, his fears of abandonment, which were rooted in his childhood, would sometimes overtake him.  At those times, he would be even more insistent that he and Meg talk about what was going on between them.

But Meg, who, in EFT language, was a ""distancer"," tended to shut down emotionally and cognitively whenever Tom insisted that they talk.  She felt emotionally overwhelmed at those times and, if she couldn't deflect the conversation, she would physically leave by walking out of their apartment or going for a drive.  She didn't know why she felt so frightened about having a discussion about the relationship and especially about her emotions.  She only knew that it was too difficult for her.  She also didn't understand what might be getting triggered in her during those times.

Their EFT couple therapist began working with Meg and Tom by asking Meg to recall a recent argument where she felt the need to distance herself from Tom.

At first, Meg couldn't think of anything, but then she remembered that she and Tom had an argument a few days before where she was ready to leave the apartment if he continued to insist on talking about their relationship and her emotions, "I don't know what comes over me.  I just feel like I need to escape as quickly as possible.  Fortunately, Tom let the matter drop, but I knew that it would be just a matter of time before this subject came up again."

The EFT couple therapist encouraged Meg to go back into her experience of the argument and to remember what she was feeling at the time.  She encouraged Meg to take a moment to get back into the same feeling state that she had been in when the argument occurred.

After a few seconds of trying, Meg turned to the therapist and said, "I really don't see how this will be  helpful.  I felt overwhelmed at the time and now you're asking me to go back into that feeling state.  I'm afraid I will feel overwhelmed again."

The EFT couple therapist told Meg that, as opposed to when the argument occurred and when uncomfortable emotions overtook her, Meg was only remembering what happened, which is usually less intense.  She also assured Meg that if it was too uncomfortable for her, Meg could stop because she was in control of the process.

The therapist also explained the rationale for revisiting this memory, which was to try to help Meg to access her emotions, including her primary emotions, because this is part of what would help Meg and Tom to make positive changes in their relationship.

With these assurances, Meg tried again.  She remembered that the argument was about how she tended to distance herself from Tom after they made love.  She recalled that Tom complained that Meg tended to move away from him.  Instead of cuddling with him, she would turn over to go to sleep shortly after they made love.

She also remembered that this was an ongoing issue between them, and whenever Tom brought it up, she felt very uncomfortable and wanted him to stop talking about it (see my article: Are You Too Uncomfortable Talking to Your Spouse About Sex?).

Allowing herself to remember what she felt at the time, Meg remembered feeling angry and frustrated that Tom was, once again, bringing this up when he knew that she was too uncomfortable to talk about it.  

The therapist remained empathically attuned to Meg and encouraged her to continue to delve beneath her secondary emotions of anger and frustration to see what was underneath these emotions.  She explained to Meg that secondary emotions, like anger and frustration, mask the more vulnerable primary emotions, and accessing and communicating about her primary emotions was key to working on her relationship with Tom.

Meg agreed that she wanted more than anything for her relationship with Tom to work out so, even though it was somewhat frightening for her to delve beyond her more surface emotions, she was willing to try it.

The couple therapist helped Meg by suggesting that she become conscious of where she felt her emotions in her body.  She explained that the body is a container for conscious and unconscious emotions and it allows access more easily than trying to access emotions by thinking about them.

Meg placed herself back in the memory of that argument.  She remembered having her back to Tom and how the anger and frustration were building up inside her.  As she recalled how she felt, she realized that she felt these emotions in her chest and in her gut.  The therapist encouraged Meg to stay with it and see what would come up next.  

Meg remained with the experience for another minute or so and then told the therapist that she was beginning to feel a little queasy and a tightening in her chest.  She could feel the anger and frustration, but she sensed that there was something more going on for her underneath these emotions.

Focusing on the queasiness in her stomach and the tightening in her chest, Meg felt a wave of sadness come over her.  At that point, she told the therapist that she would like to stop because it felt too overwhelming for her.

During the next EFT couple therapy session, Meg went back into the same argument to see if she could get beyond her secondary emotions.  Even though she was still somewhat uncomfortable doing this, she wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as she had been the first time she tried it the week before.

Once again, Meg felt the wave of sadness underneath the anger and frustration.  She mostly felt it in her chest.  But this time, she was able to stay with it to see what else might come up because the feeling was manageable for her, especially since the therapist remained empathically attuned to Meg and Meg sensed her presence and emotional support.

Meg told the therapist that she still wanted to run from the sadness, but it felt bearable this time.  Then, she sensed into the tightness in her chest and sensed fear as another underlying emotion. 

Her therapist asked Meg to see if any words, images or other memories came to her from the sensations and emotions in her chest and gut.  As Meg stayed with those sensations and emotions, the words that came to her were, "You're unlovable and Tom will probably leave you" (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

Afterwards, Meg told the therapist and Tom that, after she accessed her primary emotions, she had no idea that she had been feeling this way.  Now she understood why she felt so vulnerable, especially after she and Tom were sexually intimate.  She realized that she was protecting herself against what she felt was inevitable--that Tom would discover that she was unlovable and leave her (see my article: Overcoming the Fear That People Wouldn't Like You If They Knew the "Real You").

The other thing that really surprised Meg was that, once she verbalized her primary emotions, they weren't nearly as scary as she would have thought.  She experienced the emotions like a wave that had a build up, a peak and then a release, and she was somewhat relieved.  

The EFT couple therapist asked Tom if he had any idea, before Meg verbalized her fear and sadness that she felt unlovable and feared that he would leave her, that Meg was feeling this way.

In response, Tom said he was shocked, "I never would have guessed this.  The only thing that I ever see after we make love is that Meg shuts down emotionally and turns away from me.  I had no idea that she feels unlovable or that she thinks I would leave her."

Then, Tom turned to Meg, hugged her and reassured her that he was in it for the long haul--come what may--and he wanted to work on their relationship no matter what it took.  

Meg was visibly relieved and told Tom and the therapist that this is the reassurance that she needed, but she never realized it before and never would have known how to ask for it.

In subsequent sessions, the EFT couple therapist continued to work with Meg and Tom to help them understand the negative pattern in their relationship and the roles (pursuer/distancer) that they played.

Since Tom already had access to his primary emotions and could communicate based on those emotions, they continued to work on helping Meg to access her emotions by sensing into her body to get beyond her surface emotions.  With practice, she was getting better at doing this on her own so that when she and Tom argued, she developed an increased capacity to remain present.

Meg also began to understand how these primary emotions were related to feeling rejected by her parents when she was a child (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

She was beginning to understand that at the moment when she and Tom were most intimate sexually and emotionally, she was getting triggered and shutting down emotionally and physically by masking her primary emotions to protect herself.

In addition, over time, Meg began to learn how to separate her earlier experiences with her parents from her current experiences with Tom (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning to Separate the Past From the Present).

As a result of these experiences in therapy, Meg was able to expand her window of tolerance for these uncomfortable emotions, and she was also able to spend more time being present emotionally with Tom after they made love.

Meg didn't always succeed, especially in the beginning, but she and Tom both understood that progress in therapy isn't linear and setbacks are part of the process (see my articles: Progress in Therapy Isn't Linear and Setbacks in Therapy Are Normal on the Road to Healing).

The fictional vignette above is a relatively simple example, for the sake of brevity, of how an experiential therapy can help a client to access primary emotions.  

In the particular example above, the experiential therapy was Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples developed by Dr. Sue Johnson.

Similar techniques are used in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis and AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy).

All of these experiential therapies use the mind-body connection to get to primary emotions, the emotions that provide the route to making positive changes.   

In the example above, Tom had access to primary emotions due to his work in his individual experiential therapy while Meg didn't.  However, it's often the case that neither person has access to primary emotions and they will both need to work in therapy on accessing and expressing those emotions to each other.

Getting Help in Experiential Therapy
Whether you're an individual with an unresolved problem or a couple who are trying to salvage their relationship, experiential therapy is much more effective in terms of making positive changes (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy).

When you remain on the surface with secondary emotions, you remain stuck in your problems.  Being able to access your innermost emotions and talk about them to your partner offers the best chance for making positive changes.

Rather than remaining stuck, you owe it to yourself to get help from an experiential therapist who can assist you to overcome your problems.

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

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 during business hours or email me.