This article is part of our Why Couples Fight Series
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.
Step One: 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.
Step Two: 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.
Step Three: 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.
Step Four: 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?
Step Five: 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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Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.