In the comment section of my last post, Renee Segal, a fabulous EFT Therapist and Supervisor Candidate in MN (find her here: http://www.mplscounseling.com), mentioned that one way she interrupts an arguing couple is by saying gently “You can argue at home. I want to make this a different experience for you.”
The word different is important. We do want to make our couples’ experiences in the room different from the negative cycle that they know so well. And, whenever something different or new happens, we want to grab onto it, pull it out and highlight it. Jim Thomas (an EFT Trainer and Supervisor in CO, find him here: http://www.engagingtherapy.com) likes to ask his clients “Is this different from what happens at home?” which can slow the couple down and focus them on the newness of this present-moment experience.
This grab-able moment could be an individual doing something different (i.e. one partner is listening in a different way, or not shutting down, or not saying something with anger) or it could be the couple doing something different (sharing in a different way, approaching something in a new way, maybe even just making eye contact or turning towards each other in a difficult moment). If this happens, slow down, explicitly label the moment as something different, something new, and stay in it with them. Ask your couple if they noticed it, and check with each partner, “Is this different from what happens at home? What is it like for you when Joe looks at you in this new way, with tears in his eyes and says ‘I hate when we fight?’ Joe, what does it feel like to say that to your wife in this vulnerable, different way?”
Or: “Ann, I notice you were really listening to Ryan just now, you even glanced over to him as he was talking. Wow, that felt really different to me. In other sessions we’ve talked about how when Ryan is talking you are often busy planning how to fight back, and today I really feel you listening in a different way, perhaps without your armor? Am I right? Does it feel different to you?”
As you pass this new experience by each of them, label it several times as new and different. And stay in the moment with them, highlighting and processing this new move. By labeling it explicitly and staying in it, you are holding it up to the light, having them notice and feel it and “try it on”, and therefore, giving it some power. It also may give them hope, a moment of: Oh yes, we are making progress!
Another great place to use this is in processing enactments, especially if the one partner is sharing something new and you can see the listening partner getting ready to react (pounce or shut down) and you want to focus them, focus their response on the newness of the move, or the newness of the emotion, and block possible the typical (and understandable) reactivity.
For instance, Susan shares with Caroline that underneath her anger is fear that Caroline isn’t really interested in her anymore. Susan shares this with hesitation and a trembling voice and without her typical razor-sharp edge. You can see Caroline prickle and you sense that she is getting defensive, perhaps hearing this new emotion and tone and presentation from her partner as judgment or blame. Or she may just be confused because it is so different. You lean in and ask her, “So Caroline, wow. Susan just shared something really new here, and in a really different way. She put away her anger and plugged into what was underneath it and then tried to share that with you. Wow, that felt really new. I wonder if you can tell me, is this different from what usually happens at home?”
If you catch her before she has a chance to react in her typical protective way, and focus her with the question “Is this different from what usually happens at home” you can hold both of them in this new moment for a bit longer. You will still have to process Caroline’s reaction, (because you can bet it will show up in a minute!) but it may have a little less sting (or not), and they will both have a moment to hang out in and feel this different, new and more healthy place. Even if it is just for a moment.
So this week, try to notice and grab onto any new moves, however small, and highlight them with the couple. Let us know what you think or if it helps (and feels different to you)!