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    Don’t Let Fight Lead to Flight: Benefits of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy

    Mary is preparing dinner and can’t help but notice the rhythmic dripping of the kitchen faucet. “I asked Bill to take care of that 2 weeks ago — he never listens to me,” she thinks, taking her anger out on the pork chops she’s tenderizing. She approaches her husband, whose attention is focused on the third quarter of the playoff game. “I guess if anything is going to get done around this house, I’m going to have to do it myself,” she snaps.

    “You know,” Bill says without looking in her direction while turning up the volume, “I spend all day at work and all I ask for is just a few minutes to unwind when I get home — I guess that’s asking too much.”

    “Fine,” Mary mutters walking off. “I’m sick of living in this dump. If you earned a little more, at least I could hire a plumber.”

    So what just happened in this hypothetical marital drama?

    On the surface, most people would probably say that Bill and Mary just had a blowout fight. But if we stop and look more closely, there’s more going on below the surface.

    The reality is that couples emotionally disconnect as a result of getting stuck in negative patterns in their interactions and communications. But underneath, they’re very often still trying to connect. It’s just that the underlying messages get confused, warped and distorted — frequently resulting in anger and hurt feelings. In fact, the messages that couples are really trying to send each other commonly get received as something entirely different.

    In order to start healing, Bill and Mary need to begin slowing down their unhealthy patterns — which can take some practice because they can unfold so rapidly. Then they can identify the pattern and work to change it into a more honest and direct communication of their underlying feelings.

    Each person needs to understand the part they play from both an intellectual place (why am I doing this), and an emotional place (how do I feel when I’m doing this). But they have to slow things down first to be able to step out of the pattern and observe it before they can begin making that shift.

    Bill and Mary need to learn how to speak from a more honest emotional place. But they can only be more open and vulnerable with each other when there’s an atmosphere of trust — where difficult feelings can be received and responded to in a nondefensive and supportive manner. As the couple learns to step out of negative patterns more regularly, things will begin to feel more secure.

    That’s the point where hurt starts getting repaired and healing begins.

    And this is precisely what happens in couples therapy. I practice Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), which was developed by Dr. Sue Johnson and has helped many couples learn how to step out of these negative emotional “dances” and learn how to reconnect with one another.

    The good news for Bill and Mary is that it’s still possible for their relationship to heal even if these negative patterns have persisted for years — because they’re still trying to connect. However, this negative pattern, if left unchecked, can eventually start to erode their emotional bond. But if they can begin to understand what they’re thinking and feeling below the anger and resentment, there’s still hope.

    As a therapist, I’ve been helping couples strengthen their bonds for more than 20 years. I’ve helped them understand and step out of unhealthy patterns and learn how to be more emotionally present and honest with each other. If you have questions about how couples therapy could help your relationship, I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you.