2. Emotionally Focused Therapy
3. The Cycle
4. The Iceberg of Relationship
It can be valuable to understand how relationships work and therefore more about what may be happening in your own relationship.
This can support the experience of you attending couple counselling together.
Rapid developments have been taking place in our understanding of adult intimate relationships in what is called "the science of love" by some professionals.
Partly through the development of neuroscience where we can literally see and map the brain and partly through the increasing empirical validation of research into adult relationships we are beginning to really understand more and more about our need for and the importance to our survival of relationship.
This is confirming exciting understanding about the human need for bonding and connection.
The research shows that we are “ wired up” as human beings to connect with others and that this is a need that we all have from cradle to grave. It also affirms that our desire for connection with significant others is not a needy, weak feeling but a hard wired evolutionary drive as part of a natural strategy for survival.
However the purpose of this article is not to focus on the science for we are dealing here with something as exquisite and as vital to us all as oxygen - namely love.
So in this article I will be giving you information that will help you understand more about relationships and communication. It can reduce tension and allow you to feel warmer and closer to your partner.
However it cannot replace actual couple counselling which is by nature much more experiential and where we find out what is really happening for each of you inside the relationship by exploring it experientially together.
For this is where the hurts and the love co-exist and where counselling can help us re-connect where we have become separated.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a short-term and systematic approach to marital and couple relationships that helps couples resolve issues and feel close again.
It is one of the leading forms of couples therapy that has research and outcome data supporting it.
A recent meta-analysis of the best studies found 70-73% of couples to be recovered from marital distress and 90% of couples to have significantly improved.
It recognizes that " couples get together for emotional reasons and that they tend to separate for emotional reasons".
Furthermore Emotionally Focused Therapy also understands that there is an inherent "logic" to emotion.
It explores the emotional and relational bonds that connect us all in relationship and which are responsible for and fundamental to our happiness and satisfaction.
One of it's originators and main proponent now is Dr Sue Johnson who is a clinical psychologist and who holds professorships at the University of Canada in Ottawa and Alliant University in San Diego, California.
Her 2008 book Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, written for the general public, outlines her last 25 years of research and the new science of love.
I use Emotionally Focused Therapy exclusively in my practice now as my experience is that it is the most effective form of couple therapy that I know about and have used.
EFT is a way of exploring your relationship that helps both of you become more aware of how you interact together and how close or distant to each other this makes you feel.
EFT calls this your cycle or pattern.
Getting to know your cycle together and how it captures and at times overwhelms you both is a vital part of beginning to reduce the tension or distance, and emotional disconnection between the two of you, that keeps you apart.
All relationships have something that we call a cycle. We could also use the word " pattern" or if we were feeling poetic we could use the word " dance".
This cycle describes your relationship in terms of:
- the interactions and events in which you relate together
- what your perceptions of each other and the relationship are
- the emotions you both feel
- how close or distant you feel to your partner.
A relationship that has unresolved issues produces what is called a negative cycle.
The word negative here does not refer to the behaviour of either person as being wrong or that either person is to blame. It is used here quite neutrally as a word to describe a pattern or cycle that undermines the enjoyment and happiness of being together. The cycle is the enemy, not the other person or yourself although when you are in a difficult cycle it may feel like that!
A negative cycle in any couple relationship is naturally circular and repetitive.
It becomes very difficult for couples to avoid it however hard they may try and want to resolve issues. Over time it is destructive to the feeling of connection and closeness that the couple share in a relationship.
There are 3 main variations of cycle that couples may find themselves caught in:
The most common pattern in couples is the demand/withdraw cycle and the two other patterns usually result from a prolonged demand/withdraw pattern that is not resolved over time.
Th demand/withdraw pattern is characterized by one person, who is often frustrated or angry, actively seeking a response from their partner who may often either physically withdrew or if they stay in the room shuts down emotionally. When this happens the frustrated,angry partner tends to escalate and intensify their anger.
The attack/attack pattern occurs when the partner who usually shuts down or withdraws starts becoming defensive or angry. Then we have both partners prone to reactively acting with frustration and anger.
The freeze/freeze pattern occurs when the partner who normally pursues and protests in the beginning becomes more hopeless and stops emotionally pressing. The couple tend not to argue, may live and function in the same house but feel emotionally disconnected, detached and closed off from each other. They may describe feeling more like friends than romantic partners if they are cordial with each other.
The Iceberg of Relationship
This article is the start of helping us understand more about what is happening in a couple relationship when there are problems.
It cannot replace having counselling together but can give individuals and couples some relief, reduce tension and allow more warmth and a better feeling.
In doing so I am going to use the iceberg as a metaphor to illustrate an important part of how we experience our relationship.
As we know the iceberg is a structure that has visible and invisible parts to the eye that are interconnected. One is above the waterline and one is below.
They co-exist yet our physical perception is limited to only seeing the upper part.
This is also what is happening in a relationship. We are often unaware of WHAT exactly is triggering our own and our partner's behaviour because it is out of sight and we can't see that it is connected. We think we know based upon what we see but like the iceberg we are only getting half the picture.
So when our partner is angry with us what takes our attention is the anger and that is what we react to.
However underneath the anger there always tends to be another feeling that comes from a part of us that is feeling more vulnerable and sensitive.
That emotion can vary depending upon the context but can be sadness, anxiety/fear or guilt/inadequacy.
Often the person expressing the anger can be unaware of the vulnerable,softer feeling in themselves that is underneath until someone or something helps them connect with it. If they are aware of it they often do not feel safe to express it because their experience is that their partner will not respond in the right way i.e be reassuring, supportive, comforting and validating.
Anger is a reactive feeling which acts as an inbuilt safety mechanism that protects us when we feel vulnerable and either do not know how to get those more vulnerable needs met or do not feel safe about getting them met.
Not surprisingly the only thing we see is the anger and that is what we respond and react to.
As we try to resolve the issues and get back closer together the opposite happens and we end up unintentionally pushing the other person away in the very way and style that we try to manage the distress of feeling disconnected.
We become caught and trapped in a negative cycle that becomes destructive, circular and repetitive in nature.
Then we may find ourselves left with a variety of feelings which include hopelessness, sadness, anger/frustration, confusion and fear. Nick Haynes 2017
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