There comes a time in every EFT learner’s journey when they have to step into Stage 2 work. All while I’ve been learning EFT I’ve seen Stage 2 as a very distant place, and honestly I haven’t worried much about it. I thought I’d be in Stage 1 forever, really. Recently, though, one my couples seemed like they were ready for Stage 2 work, and I realized that, for better or for worse, I was going to have to be the one to take them there.
Eeeeeee. I really wanted to just tap in my supervisor or another experienced colleague and say, “could you come do this session instead of me?” It felt like such a difficult risk to take. And in preparing for this, and trying it, I wanted to share it with you in case it’s helpful.
So first, I’m pretty sure I kept us dancing around the end of Stage 1 for like 4 sessions longer than I needed to. But I wanted to be REALLY really sure they were ready for Stage 2. At the end of Stage 1, in Step 4, we are, “reframing the problem in terms of the negative cycle” and speaking from a place of the couple’s underlying feelings and attachment needs (Johnson, 2004). This couple could do that. They got the negative cycle, they could name when they were in it, they could repair after. They understood it was their “freaked out” emotions and panic of losing the other that fueled the negative cycle. They each took responsibility for their actions in the cycle (p 166).
Most important to me was to assess the feeling of their emotional safety. I really felt like they were each wanting to support each other. When one would risk vulnerability, the other would be right there for them. There were still moments of disbelief and skepticism, but never done with bullets.
I still couldn’t be 100% sure it was time. And this was interesting, I thought when I got here it would be more obvious to me. But it wasn’t as black and white as I thought it might feel. What I could feel from the couple is that they were starting to get almost antsy and bored with Stage 1. At one point one of them turned to me and said, “I think we need to go into some of the harder conversations.” So it was interesting to feel their readiness, before my own!
Another component is that these two have a more complicated cycle. They aren’t quite pursue-withdraw, they aren’t quite withdraw-withdraw, and they have flipped roles over the years. One partner is a little softer, the other a little more passionate. So I started with the softer client. They touched more into their view of self, and shared their fear they wouldn’t get it right for their partner if they showed up more. We spent a whole session on this, and I think this was withdrawer re-engagement, but again, more nebulous in their cycle. This went well, and yet also felt relatively low-risk. It felt like they were being vulnerable, but the process was not as high-octane as when we ask the more pursuer partner to reach from their fear.
Then, it was time to take on the big kahuna.
As the softer withdrawn partner started to come forward, and say they wanted to be there for their spouse, I could see that view of other/self start to pop up for the more passionate partner. They started to question, do you really want to be there for me? These moments make me so grateful for Sue Johnson’s work. It all comes about so organically, it’s amazing to hear clients voice almost word for word what’s in her writing.
I knew I had to ask them to reach from their fear, that it was time, but I was also scared. What’s if it’s too early? What if I’m gauging this wrong? It’s such a big risk for everyone in the room to do Step 5 with the more pursuer partner. We are really heightening their fear, and then as Lorrie Brubacher says, asking them to “feel the terror that’s been running the show, reach out of the terror, and feel being caught,” (Zordich, 2017). It’s also the one moment (as I understand it) when we don’t stay and process the client’s reluctance to share, like we do every other time in EFT. Every other time we slice it thinner, we make it safer, and we certainly want to make sure it will be safe for them to share with their partner, but this is a time when we have to heighten the fear and ask them to reach from that fear. This is where I hear Sue’s famous words, “I’d like you to try,” from one of her training videos.
The enactment went as well as I could have wanted it to, but I was surprised by how vulnerable we all felt in the room after. Even though the more pursuer partner was caught (beautifully) by their partner, they had still just taken a roller coaster ride in their primary emotions. I was feeling their vulnerability and my own, and hoping I had done this all right for them. It felt raw, and new, and as Rebecca Jorgensen reminds us, a place where all three of us had never been before.
I wish it had felt more black and white, and I could know for certain it was time and I did it all right. But I realized at some point I was going to have to take this risk, and trust all I have learned so far. What was this risk like for you, the first time you went into Stage 2?
Johnson, S. (2004) The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York, New York: Bruner/Routledge
Zordich, P. (March 4, 2017) @efttherapist. retrieved from www.instagram.com