The EFT approach to couples therapy: Why the fight about the dishwasher is rarely about the dishwasher
Do you feel important to your partner? Strong relationships hinge on the answer to this question.
Lasting love isn’t a mystery. Weathering storms, differences, and perpetual problems are possible when we feel important to one another. When our emotional connection is strong, our relationship is strong.
However, when our emotional connects erodes, whether over time or all of a sudden, relationship distress sets in. Feeling like we can’t count on one another limits our ability to work through challenges together, even small bumps in the road.
Fights about the dishwasher, finances, and kids, can become minefields when we’re not on the same team. Some couples end up stuck on the minefield, dealing with one explosion after another, while others begin to avoid the minefield, and each other, entirely.
In EFT, we use the latest neuroscience on adult attachment and emotional regulation to help couples rebuild their emotional connection. Couples learn a whole new way of responding and repairing with one another, so their connection stays strong.
But let’s back-up. What destroys the connection between partners? How do we go from feeling loved and important to unsure or convinced that our partner doesn’t care?
In EFT, we believe demon dialogues are to blame.
What’s a demon dialogue? According to Dr. Sue Johnson, the co-founder of EFT, demon dialogues are rigid, negative, relationship patterns that scramble the emotional signals between partners and push them further apart. In moments of hurt, miscommunication, conflict, or stress, we need a way to reach and repair with our partner. If we can’t mend the inevitable rifts—our connection suffers. Love researchers have found that couples with the highest rates of distress and divorce struggle with repair. Unable to quickly and easily get back on track with one another, couples get caught in a painful cycle of disconnection that can actually take over the relationship.
Here are the most common relationship demon dialogues:
Find the Bad Guy: In moments of hurt or conflict, both partners will defend themselves by turning up the emotional heat and going on the attack. If there’s a lot of finger pointing, name calling, and never-ending litigation of “who is right and who is wrong”, you might be caught in this cycle. Couples get so caught up in determining who is at fault, they never end up reconnecting with one another.
The Protest Polka: In moments of hurt or conflict, one partner turns up the emotional heat, in essence protesting the lack of connection and raising the alarm bell, while the other partner tries to turn down the emotional intensity by avoiding and shutting down. As each partner tries to cope, either through desperate protest or shutting down, they get stuck in a viscous cycle. The more one partner shuts down, the more their partner pursues. The more one partner pursues, the more their partner numbs out and turns away. In their desperation, they actually end up pushing each other away. This is the most common relationship pattern found among couples in therapy.
Freeze and Flee: Both partners hate the heat and avoid conflict. As a couple, they excel at brushing things under the rug. Fighting is rare and fleeting when it happens. The lack of outward conflict may seem like a positive thing, but the lack of authenticity limits the emotional connection. Couples can live this way for years, but often a big stressor or life change can suddenly make it clear that all of the “not talking” has them alone and unable to lean on one another.
Even though demon dialogues show up early in a relationship, they do their greatest damage over time. When you and your partner keep getting stuck in the same spot, hurt builds and trust can be lost. Sometimes the pain and hopelessness get so big that partners stop trying all together. They may turn to someone else, throw themselves into their work, or cope with compulsive behaviors.
Most of us will recognize our relationship in one of these demon dialogues. We want you to know that finding the demon dialogue in your relationship isn’t a fatal blow to your relationship, it’s the chance to start anew. If you can learn your negative cycle, you have a chance to stop it.
In EFT (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy) we can help you discover the negative cycle that keeps you stuck. Instead of fighting one another, you can focus on fighting the pattern. You can learn to reach and repair with one another. This is the foundation for a new, positive cycle between you and your loved one. Even if your connection was severely impacted by an affair or terribly painful relationship moment, you can regain trust and move forward together.
There really is hope. You are good folks caught in a bad pattern—let us help you find the way out, together.