“With this approach, his wife only hears anger and an attack, which causes her to defend herself—missing his hurt and then not able to respond sensitively to his need,” Blum said. Other times, partners will withdraw, she added. The same husband might think, “I don’t need her. I can be an independent person. I’m going to make plans with my friends. I don’t care if I don’t see her for another month.” “He then pulls further away from her and the rift between them widens,” she said.
A Sample EFT Exercise
Blum described EFT as giving couples a “new language and lens to understand their relationship, and offers a map for getting back on a closer, more connected course.” Distressed couples get caught up in a negative dance, where each reacts to the other, both perpetuating the negative spiral.
Blum highly recommended founder Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. It helps couples dissect their debates and dig deeper beyond dirty dishes and financial spats. That’s because, according to Blum, repetitive arguments are really about either one or both partners “not feeling securely attached.” Johnson calls these repetitive fights “demon dialogues.” “The first step to getting out of the negative spiral —the demon dialogue—is to chart out what’s happening.”
In one of the exercises in Hold Me Tight, Johnson helps couples see how their negative dance unfolds and how both are responsible for the arguments. Each partner describes their “steps in the dance:” “The more I _______, the more you _________.” Take the example of a husband who gets upset every time his wife invites her mother over to their house. The husband might say “The more I tell you that I’m mad about your mother coming over, the more you pull away from me, go into the office and shut the door and refuse to talk to me, then the more I demand you talk to me. You get angry and tell me what a terrible husband I am for not wanting my mother-in-law around.”
The wife might say: “The more I don’t include you on the decision to have my mom over, the more you feel angry and upset with me and give her the cold shoulder and then the more I just want to leave you in the dust and not even engage with you.”
According to Blum, “This mutual description gives both partners a chance to see what’s happening to them when they get caught in the negative dance and begin the process of changing the ‘music.’”
Additional Help for Couples
“If you’re chronically struggling in your relationship, take that as a sign that your relationship needs some care,” Blum said. This might mean reading a book like Hold Me Tight or seeing a couples therapist. If you’re interested in seeing a therapist who specializes in Emotionally Focused Therapy, check out the database on EFT’s official website.
You can learn more about EFT at Blum’s website and the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT).
Johnson, S., Hunsley, J., Greenberg, L. & Schindler, D. (1999) Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Status & challenges (A meta-analysis). Journal of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 67-79.