Couples Counseling

DISCONNECTION AND YOUR NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIP CYCLE

Couples primarily come in to tackle many issues that they believe get in the way of feeling heard and connected in the relationship. These issues often range anywhere from finances, parenting, sex, in-laws, to the deep hurt resulting from uncovering a deceit or an affair.

In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, what we are primarily listening for is HOW the couple talks about these issues, rather than WHAT they are talking about.

All relationships, whether they be intimate couples, family dynamics or friendships, are inherently a back and forth of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. In marriage counseling, these behaviors are really the primary defenses we use to express/convey/communicate our thoughts and feelings. In other words, “When I feel and perceive X, then I react by being defensive, critical/blaming, plaquating, walking away….”

It helps to picture an infinity loop of action and reaction tendencies that delineate the relationship. Meanwhile the content (i.e., the topic of discussion or argument) is simply the trigger that highlights this dysfunctional dance.

So let’s take an innocuous topic that starts the interaction: “Honey, can you pick up the dry cleaning on your way home?” Great! Simple enough: Partner A makes a request, Partner B picks up the dry cleaning, brings it home, Partner A says thank you, done. Well… not so fast.

Let’s say Partner B had a crazy day and forgot to pick up the dry cleaning (again!). Now what? B walks through the door and the spouse says in a frustrated tone “What happened to the dry cleaning?! I needed that shirt for tomorrow!” Now B is thinking “Oh ohhhh… I’m in trouble again” but instead says defensively with the hopes of not talking any further about the forgotten dry cleaning “Uh! I’m sorry ok!! You don’t have to make such a big deal about it!! It’s not like you always remember things I need!” And…they’re off to the races. Partner A is now really angry, feels dismissed, continues to berate; Partner B gets increasingly defensive and eventually walks away. What just happened here??!

This negative interaction is another brick on the wall that perpetuates this couple’s disconnection and emotional distance.

One goes back to his/her story that he/she doesn’t matter, while the other believes the narrative that he/she cannot get it right and is inadequate. This is a sad state of affairs and one that can be better understood when you slow it all wayyyyyy down.

The next time you find yourselves caught in your negative cycle start noticing the following elements:

  • How are you reacting? What are your defensive moves? Do you tend to criticize, blame, demand, get defensive, plaquate, walk away, or go for the kill by hitting that nerve you know will hurt most?

  • What are you thinking? What are your perceptions of your partner? Your perceptions of the relationship? And most importantly, your perceptions of yourself? In other words, how is this exchange fueling the story you’ve been telling yourself?

  • What are you feeling? Are you feeling hurt, sad, angry, disgusted, happy, scared?


Now connect the dots: “When I feel [insert emotions], I think [insert perceptions of I/You/We are…], so I do/say [insert action tendency].”


If you both identify your feelings, thoughts, actions then you will begin to see the automatic reaction that comes back to you in response and that you then in turn react to. And thus, your negative cycle.

Next time I will go over the different types of negative cycles. Stay tuned!

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If you are interested in tracking your negative cycle, I provide in-person and online couples counseling in my Westport office. I’m available to all throughout Fairfield County, CT and New York.

****Contact me to scheduled your free 15 min consultation****

Valentine's Day for the Romantically Disconnected

Valentine's Day for the Romantically Disconnected

On this Valentine’s day eve, I’m thinking of those couples whose disconnection is weighing even more heavily. As if the daily reminders weren’t hard enough, this holiday can a quite the twist of the knife. I trust that you can find countless articles about the 10 special ways to celebrate Valentine’s day, but when you are sitting in disconnection it can be a real challenge to get through the day. Here is some perspective from a couples therapist. 

Identifying Your Defenses in Relationships and What To Do About Them

Identifying Your Defenses in Relationships and What To Do About Them

Identifying your defenses that guard against some underlying uncomfortable feelings is very important if you want to break the negative cycle you are caught in together. There are four key defenses that we use; John Gottman refers to them as “The Four Horsemen.” They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. They are interconnected and build on each other. The good news is that once you recognize them in yourself, you can do something about it.

How Parenting Stress is Affecting Your Relationship

How Parenting Stress is Affecting Your Relationship

Transitioning to parenthood is one of the greatest challenges that most couples face. We read every book available about the growing baby, research the best cribs or nursery accessories, but don't take the time to talk and prepare for how becoming parents will affect the relationship. Here are three signs that parenting stress is affecting your relationship/marriage

when couples argue about what was always there

when couples argue about what was always there

And yet, what often brings couples to counseling are those very changes that seem so intolerable and unexpected: "He's so irresponsible with money", "She's so disorganized", "He's so illusive, I can't seem to get a straight answer from him", "She flirts with other people" .... And in the sea of complaints and finger-pointing, deep down I know that most of the complaints are not truly surprises once the person starts to think about how their partner was when they first got together.

When is it time to see a couples therapist?

When is it time to see a couples therapist?

Based on the research of Dr. John Gottman and his famous Marriage Clinic, couples wait on average of 6 years from the time marital tensions began to the time they seek professional help. So between our misconceptions of who, why couples seek therapy, along with our apparent ability to tolerate a least 6 years worth of marital disconnection, when is actually a good time to seek couples therapy before it's too late? Here are a few pointers.


Power Dynamics Can Be Relationship Killers

Power Dynamics Can Be Relationship Killers

All relationships entail some degree of power dynamics. If you're in a marriage where things are relatively equal (either you agree on almost every decision or you have consciously agreed that you will each have your departments of decision-making power) then you're not feeling a constant push and pull. But I see a lot couples with power imbalances that can become real relationship killers.

Individual Growth That Comes From Couples Therapy

Individual Growth That Comes From Couples Therapy

One of my favorite aspects of providing couples therapy is the individual growth that I see in my clients. Clients come in for their relationship and midway through then process, they end up with so much insight into their respective individual stories to find compassion for each other. Because we define ourselves in and through relationships, couples counseling is actually an ideal venue through which we can learn to undo our life long defenses and become the best versions of ourselves we can be.