Emotionally-Focused Therapy and the Marital Fight Autopsy
When it comes to marital fight dissection, evidence-based Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) is by far the most relational model. At the risk of being overly simplistic, it could be argued the entire EFT model is essentially one big fight autopsy.
And that is where its strength lies. EFT is essentially an experiential model that works towards corrective emotional experiences. Repair and re-connection of attachment bonds are fundamental to EFT.
Seven Steps to a Marital Fight Meta-Conversation… EFT Style
- Notice and interrupt the Demon Dance/Protest Polka. This involves shifting from a “You are hurting me! I am under attack!” stance, or “You are ignoring me! I am abandoned!” to a “We are doing it again, we’re trapped in our Demon Dance” stance. The essence of EFT is the recognition of a “dysfunctional relational cycle.” It helps you move away from blaming your partner and begin to collaborate with them instead.
- Claim Your Own Feelings. According to EFT, partners tend to linger in the safer “surface emotions” of anger and frustration. I will be writing a future post on the debate between the Gottman and EFT models on the nature of “surface” emotions and primary emotions. In this model, it is believed that it’s harder to go deeper into softer feelings of vulnerability and healthy dependence. EFT focuses on facilitating that process.
- Claim Responsibility for your own Moves. “The More you do x, The More I do y.” The Developmental Model is somewhat uncomfortable with these kinds of dependent observations. But I feel that “The More….The More” is a pretty accurate meme of how couples bob and weave under stress. We may want to be coolly differentiated, but ultimately, we are more sensitive than not to pokes and prods from our partner. EFT has a more scientific appreciation for how human emotions actually play out. EFT doesn’t apologize for seeking to foster a healthy relational dependence. It sees the benefits of differentiation as achievable only if a safe and secure attachment is firmly established.
- Own How You Are Shaping Your Partner’s Emotions. EFT acknowledges that couples have an enormous influence on each other. The science of how couples impact each other is a key aspect of EFT. Surface emotions are only a small part of the emotional reality of deep intimate bonds.
- Ask About Your Partner’s Deeper Emotions. In EFT Couples Therapy, partners are worked with carefully. The therapist acts as a “transitional attachment figure,” helping the couple become more comfortable with the process of exploring vulnerable emotions that lie beneath the surface.
- Share Your Deeper, Underlying Emotions. The more the couple discusses deeper emotions in EFT, the easier it becomes to express them. Our emotions become more clear and less overwhelming.
- Standing Together. A couple with a strong intimate bond has what is called in attachment science, a safe and secure base. In EFT, it becomes easier to more quickly exit demon dialogues and return to a solid connection.
EFT Fight Autopsy Exercise…from Glove Story to Love Story.
- Pick a fight or squabble from the past few weeks. Write down a simple description of the incident. What would a video camera have seen? In EFT, we work towards mutual agreement on this description. Now write out in simple language the actions you took in this situation. How did your actions influence your partner’s decisions and choices? Compare notes carefully. Decide on a version of events that you can both comfortably agree upon. Keep this narrative descriptive, but as simple as possible.
- Report on the feelings that you had, and how each of you influenced each other’s decisions. Share your feelings, and agree on a common version of how each of your feelings played out during this fight.
- Now ask each other about the softer, more vulnerable underlying feelings. Have these vulnerable feeling gone unexpressed? Be curious. Ask questions. If your partner has a hard time describing vulnerable feelings, offer a speculation based on your familiarity with his or her emotional make-up. But suggest this tentatively. “Did you feel sad? Confused? Hurt?” Check in with your partner and confirm what their more vulnerable feelings were.
- What could you have said or done instead of what actually happened? Here is where the two evidence-based models, Gottman and EFT, have a similar approach. How could this fight have been navigated more perfectly? How could you have tuned into each other collaboratively? What would that have been like, if you approached the problem more collaboratively? How would you have felt about each other if you did that?
- If it gets tough, slow down. Offer each other support. “This is hard to do isn’t it?” Breathe together. Maintain eye contact. Celebrate your small breakthroughs. This process takes practice and time.
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