NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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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.