I’ve been thinking a lot about a very simple, seemingly innocuous question/intervention—a question so simple that it is easy to bypass. I know this firsthand as I’ve bypassed it in the past—to both my and the couple’s detriment. It’s easy to skip over for two reasons. One, because it can seem like a silly or redundant question. And since we don’t often strive to look or sound silly, we might choose to brush it aside in favor of going after something else, maybe something bigger and more obvious. The second reason is that the time for the question often comes at a moment in the process when there almost always is something bigger and more obvious happening, something that is pulling at us to attend to right now—a reactive flare up of some kind or perhaps something new and different to catch and shine a light on. All very important and not to be neglected. And all of which will be right there, waiting for you (even if you wish it wouldn’t) after you ask this important question. A question that almost always gives gold.
The question is: “How did it feel to say that?” Or “How was it for you to say that?” Or “What was happening for you as you said that?”
The obvious time to ask this is right after someone does an enactment. (Partner A turns and says something prompted by you. The beginning of “processing the enactment” should be this question — “How was it for you to say that?” (*This is Step 4 of Sue Johnson’s The 5 Basic Moves of EFT, 2012; also known as the EFT Tango.) However, you can use this “process” intervention at other times throughout the session as well.
This little move can do so many important things at once. The answer alone to your curiosity in this moment can give you so much to explore. I am often surprised at the important information all three of us receive in response to this question (if my outside matched what was happening inside of me at these moments, my mouth would often be hanging open. Or I might be giving myself a fist pump as I think, “Yay! I’m so glad I asked that.”) For instance, from someone who looks calm and collected, you might hear how anxious they are or how scary it was for them to say what they said. From someone who looks anxious, they might say they found it easy or that it felt really sad to say that. For someone who says something angrily, they may say they feel good or guilty or relieved or even ashamed. For someone who looks sad and teary, they may say they feel angry or numb or good because they are finally saying something. All of which is important to process and you could park yourself right here in this moment and explore.
In addition to the gold of the emotional information alone, there are other benefits to asking this question. Let’s imagine Partner A (Alex) has just said something to Partner B (Bailey).
It can help you slow everyone down. If you are anticipating a flare-up or if Bailey is already starting to leap in with a reaction to either an enactment or something that just happened, this question can help you interrupt and slow down. You can say, “Hang on for a moment Bailey. I just want to check in with Alex to see what was happening for her as she said that…”
You can use it to validate Alex, and if applicable, to validate the risk that she just took. This is obviously dependent on what she says in response to your “How was it to say that?” But if she says it was hard or that she was anxious, or if somehow she did something different here, you can validate that she took a risk for this relationship. This is important to highlight, especially if you can feel that Bailey may not be seeing it that way.
It can help Alex notice and connect her words to her feelings and her body in an important moment (connecting the left and right side of brain). We want our clients to be aware of what they are feeling and to send clear messages to each other from these feelings, right? Part of our clients’ negative cycle is that they are feeling one thing on the inside and showing their partner something else on the outside. We want them to start to notice and to feel this discrepancy, to notice what they are feeling on the inside (sometimes a huge task in itself) and to notice the times that they speak/show from that place and when they speak/show from a more protected place. If you can help them do that, they can start to shift and send clear messages to each other. So by asking them how they feel as they are saying something, you can help them start to notice and connect.
It can help you bring Primary Emotion alive in the moment. If she is feeling something other than what she is showing, now you have a way into that underlying emotion that you might not have known was there. And on Bailey’s side, hearing this could be an essential “lightbulb” experience.
Or it can help Alex notice if she puts her guard up in an important moment. If you think you notice it (or even if you don’t), you could ask her, “Did you feel your protection come up as you said that?” Again, an essential process for clients to be aware of so they can shift it.
It can help you turn to Bailey with additional, important emotional information. “Did you know Alex was scared to say that? What is that like to know? Is there a part of you that can feel her fear? Does that tweak or shift how you might respond?” This is especially helpful if Bailey is fired up and chomping at the bit. Your turning to him with a different question might shift him away from his immediate, reactive response. (Which, as you know, is still coming. But perhaps you’ve let everyone take a breath with your prompt.)
It can help Bailey understand Alex better. Again, just the information alone is sometimes new and important. Additionally, sometimes Bailey is already reacting or thinking about his own feelings in response to what is happening. Checking in with Alex about how it was to say what she said can be an important pause, and an important, new glimpse for Bailey into Alex. (“Oh, you were scared to say that?”) It can also be an important moment to process how in their cycle, they often aren’t aware of what is happening with each other as they are already one step ahead and planning their response; they had already “left” the present moment/interaction.
It can help YOU to understand the couple, the cycle, the protection, the way they can or can’t be vulnerable, the risks they are willing to take. All really important pieces to process in the moment. And this information can also help you in future moments as you will now know that Alex may be anxious or sad as she says something important; that even if she doesn’t look it, she may be taking a huge risk.
And, as we know, once we’ve done something with good results—like asking this question and receiving gold—we are more likely to do it again. So in those future moments, when you are assuming Alex may be anxious (because that is what you’ve now learned), you will ask, and you may get a new answer! And this is so important because now you can track that; you can track how her answer changes as therapy progresses. “Oh it is easier today? Wow, what is that like?”
I honestly feel like I could go on and on here, and I hope you can feel my passion for this little intervention! So, I encourage you to play with this question this week and see what happens! 🙂