Here are 7 Steps to Stopping the Cycle!
First, couples get into the same argument over and over because they have developed a negative pattern of communication or dance as we call it in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. All couples have a negative pattern. This dance gets worse over time and couples get stuck in it. It doesn’t matter what they are fighting about, whether it’s chores, sex, money or parenting, the pattern remains the same in each argument. When couples get stuck in their pattern, they become unable to resolve the issue. The most common type of pattern is a pursuer/withdrawer pattern. The pursuer is the one who pushes for communication, the one who protests for it, and the withdrawer usually shuts down, withdraws and turns away. There are other types of patterns but this is the most common one.
Couples are unable to see eye-to-eye in this fight, because the pattern has taken hold of them and causes them to disconnect emotionally. As an EFT therapist, my job is to help them see how the pattern is the enemy, not their partner. Then, I help them see what they both do in this dance, how they both feel, and then help them step out of it so they can understand each other and communicate in a better way.
Here are the steps for stepping out of the pattern so they can end the same old spat for good!
- Couples need to slow down.
When the pattern begins, emotions usually are running high. Anger and frustration build and then couples go at it with the fighting. It’s important for couples to slow down and recognize that the pattern is happening. They can name their dance like, “volcano,” or “hurricane.” By naming it, they are standing together against the pattern so they can both stop it from getting worse. Helping couples understand that the pattern is the problem, not their partner. Blaming isn’t going to help here. Their partner is not the enemy. The pattern is the enemy.
- Process their emotions:
When couples begin to argue, the first emotion that their partner usually sees is anger or frustration. But that is a surface or secondary emotion. They need to understand what is the root of the anger. By slowing down, they can see that maybe their partner is hurting, maybe they are sad or feeling alone? They respond by showing anger but really, they are sad or hurt. The pursuer might be yelling at the withdrawer because they didn’t do something. But the yelling is just code for, “Hey. I am really sad right now.” Or, “I feel hurt because you didn’t do what you said you were going to do.”
This is key to being able to step out of the dance and resolve an issue. Each partner must validate how the other partner is feeling. Whatever triggered the dance, caused their partner to feel sad, hurt, or alone. Saying to your partner, “I understand that you felt sad because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do for you.”
- Getting to the root of the problem:
Partners always have good reasons for getting mad or hurt. It is never about the topic they are fighting about, for example, not doing the dishes or forgetting to call. Usually, they get mad because it triggers a deeper attachment need like feeling unheard, unloved, unappreciated or unimportant. A wife might be upset because her husband didn’t call her during the day at work. This might be something she complains about a lot. He comes home and doesn’t know why she is mad. She tells him by yelling at him. And he shuts down, withdraws and goes to his room. How is she feeling? What does he see? He only sees the anger. But underneath, she is feeling sad because when he doesn’t check in with her during the day, it makes her feel unimportant to him. She doesn’t feel like a priority.
- How to step out of the pattern:
She can go to him and say, “I am sorry for yelling at you, but when you don’t call me all day from work, it makes me feel unimportant, and then I feel sad and alone.” Then, he can respond by apologizing, or by validating her feelings. “I am sorry I made you feel that way.” “Of course, you are important to me and I think about you during the day, I just got so busy.”
- Remember the pattern is the enemy:
It is important for couples to recognize that the pattern is the problem. Their spouse is not to blame. They can join together to fight against the pattern and not let the pattern disconnect them emotionally.
- Practice makes perfect: The more couples can stop the pattern and practice these steps, the less they will fight about the same thing over and over. They will know that their partner does care, and is there for them, and that together they can resolve any issue that comes their way!
If you try this at home and it still doesn’t help, then couples counseling with me in Boca Raton at the Heart Connection Center can help you and your partner reconnect. Don’t hesitate to call me at 561-203-9280 to schedule your couples counseling session today.
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