Finally Getting The Tango

I wanted to spend some time going through the EFT Tango, because even though it’s referred to a lot and one of the more basic things we learn, I felt like it took me a really long time for it to click in, and realize how to do it. People would talk about the Tango and I'd be like, "Riiiiiiiiight, sure, The Tango." Now that I get it, the sessions make so much more sense to me in terms of what I’m doing in the room. I'm going to focus this week on just Steps 1 and 2 of the Tango.

Step 1: Reflect Present Process and Step 2: Explore Slightly Different/Deeper Emotion

I know this is going to sound dumb, but it took me a while to even connect with what these two steps actually entailed. Now I understand that in these two steps we’re unpacking someone’s story with the point of distilling down to the attachment-related core.

So what this means to me is that when I’m hearing someone’s story in session, I am slowly unpacking what they are saying with the goal of hitting the checkpoints of:

  • Trigger
  • Perception – what they are thinking in the moment
  • Secondary Feeling – what they are aware they are feeling
  • Behavior – what are they doing in this moment (leaving, getting loud, going into interrogation mode)
  • Primary Emotion – what’s the deeper emotion underneath (we won’t always get here in the beginning of Stage 1)
  • And with the core goal of – WHAT IS THE ATTACHMENT MESSAGE?

If they start out saying, “It drives me nuts that I came in through the door and saw he didn’t do the dishes! He should always have them done! He should know that’s what I need after telling him 1,000 times!” then a possible unpacking would look like:

Trigger – seeing the dishes on the counter

Perception – he doesn’t want to help, he doesn’t care

Secondary Feeling – frustration, anger

Behavior – get loud, immediately go into repeated loud accusations

Primary Emotions – overwhelmed, helpless, alone

ATTACHMENT MESSAGE – On the outside I get loud and angry, but on the inside I feel so alone, like you don’t care about me at all in these moments.

I try to make the attachment message stick in my brain by remembering it has to include the message of how important one partner is to the other. So it can’t just be, “In these moments I yell because I think you’re really selfish.” It has to be, “In these moments, I really need you. I get so frustrated and desperate when I can't seem to reach you.” I try to remember that with the attachment message, it's not just what one person is assuming about the other. It's more of an owning of need, and highlighting the importance of the other person. Attachment messages for me always have to have the link between the two people with an emphasis on the importance of the other. 

This might be a little harder to describe, but I also know I've reached the attachment message when there is a poignancy and vulnerability to it. When I can feel in my body that, "Awwww!!" reaction. It happens when a client suddenly bursts out with, "What about me?" or "Where were you??" This is in its raw form, and then I reflect and track to clean up the message to, "I really love being with you, and when you are gone all day with your friends without checking in, I start to feel like, what about me? Do you even want to spend time with me? That's when I send you that nasty text message."

Now I understand that with the Tango, it’s once we distill to this point, to the attachment message, that we do Step 3 of the Tango and bring it over to the other partner. Not before. Before I really got this, I was bringing over messages at the wrong point of the process and losing track of what I was doing in session. On my tapes you'd see me kind of randomly check in with the other partner, like, "Um, how are you doing with what she's saying?" My supervisor, Felicia Friesen, helped me understand that I need to distill with one partner down to a clear attachment message, then bring it over to the other in an enactment. And sometimes the enactment gets sliced really thin, or I want to be the buffer and ask how the other partner is hearing this particular message without a direct enactment. But at least I feel like I know what the point of what I'm doing in a given moment is.

For a reference point, the entire Tango is:

1.     Reflect present process

2.     Explore slightly newer/deeper emotions

3.     Set Up Enactment

4.     Process Enactment

5.     Integrate/validate/tie a bow on it


I will continue unpacking the Tango steps 3 and 4 in future posts!


The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection (Johnson, Susan M. The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York: Bruner/Routledge, 2004.) 

My whole foundation of The Tango and EFT comes from doing the Externship and Core Skills 1-4 with Lorrie Brubacher - you can find her at

The Tango really came to life for me doing The EFT Lab with Jennifer Olden and Lillian Buchanan - find them at

Much of my learning comes from my awesome supervisor, Felicia Friesen - you can learn about working with her at