Sticking Step 2

I don't know about you all, but for me Step 2 is where everything gets stuck. I feel like if a couple can do a really good Step 2, we are going to have traction to work together. Lately, I feel like I haven't been really anchoring us in Step 2, but moving too quickly to Step 3 and trying to understand the primary emotions. I often do this when I think the couple won't be able to really do a Step 2 because of their level of self-awareness, and so I'm trying to jump ahead so they can hear that their partner has something underneath this never-ending repetitive conflict.

In attempting to do Step 2, I see that clients can often notice the more obvious aspect of their action tendency, like if it's shutting down or turning up the volume. I think it's harder for them to see if they are minimizing or dismissing, or becoming critical, because in their minds they are genuinely feeling the truth of those places. They truly think their partner is over-reacting, so they don't see it as dismissing or minimizing. They honestly believe they are just trying to explain to their partner what the problem is, they don't feel that they are being demanding or critical. 

With clients who struggle more with self-awareness, I can go into trying to get them to see their action tendency, try to get them to see it's a problem for their partner, and that it's not giving them what they want. In these sessions I become like a giant truck stuck in the mud, flooding the gas while the wheels spin in place. Everyone gets frustrated, it sounds like I'm telling the client they're doing something wrong, they get defensive, and then I need to apologize and repair.

I saw my boss, George, for supervision about this and he had the most brilliant advice. I came in saying, "George, I can't get them to see their action tendency as wrong." And he said, "You don't have to." Talking to him helped me re-envision how I could go through a Step 2. 

Hypothetical Conversation

Me: What do you do, when you feel all this frustration, once again this problem has come up, how do you let your partner know you're struggling? (looking for action tendency)

Pursuer: I just tell them, I explain what I'm feeling. (their partner has said they relentlessly go into a critical attack for 20 minutes)

Me: So you explain, you're trying to reach out to your partner and let them know, this is hard for me! This is getting in the way of us being connected!

Pursuer: Yeah, I just tell him.

If I were to encourage the Step 2 enactment here, "I do do that, I explain to you I'm upset when I'm feeling upset," I think that would feel ridiculous to the Pursuer, and since they don't see anything amiss with their action tendency, the Withdrawer isn't getting anything from this owning.

Me: So you explain, when you (repeat cue) and feel frustrated, then you start telling him about your experience, and then we're hearing from him that it gets really flooding, it's hard to stay present, he starts to feel attacked. (I'm challenging a little here, and bringing it back into the cycle, wanting them to see that their partner is reacting to them)

Pursuer: He just needs to be a man and be strong enough to listen. (ouch)

Me, after George's advice: That would be so hard! You feel like you are just trying to share your feelings and thoughts to this person you love, it would be so hard to hear that that overwhelms him. (not trying to push the awareness, just staying with the validating)

Pursuer: It's ridiculous! I'm just talking normally, why on earth can't he just hear me and respond? I've told him 1,000 times I just need him to listen to my feelings.

Me: It's so frustrating, when you're already upset, and wanting to go to your partner and seek a resolution, and you share your feelings and then that's a lot for him. That would feel almost kind of helpless, I would guess? (again not pushing them to see the unhelpfulness of their action tendency, just validating).

Pursuer: Yes, that's why we're here, we need tools to help him listen to me.

*possibly repeat this 5 more times to try and get them to soften a little*

Me: Would you tell him this, right now? Could you turn to him and tell him, "It's hard for me, I just feel like I'm sharing or explaining my experience, and then I hear that it shuts you down, and I lose connection with you even more in those moments?"

*process enactment, which in this fantasy goes AMAZINGLY well*

Me, recapping: It is really difficult to take in, when you're just wanting to share your feelings and try to get some resolution with this person you love, and the more you are explaining, the more you (Withdrawer) are hearing you've let this woman you love down, the more you hear you've disappointed her, and it's so hard to stay in that conversation. So the more you explain, the more you shut down, and the cycle starts pushing you both further apart. Am I getting that right?

 

What do you guys think? How do you move through Step 2 with clients who struggle with self-awareness?