When I lose sight of the couple’s cycle, or can’t find it to begin with, I notice that’s when I’m much more likely to start pathologizing one or both clients.
For me, understanding a couple’s conflict through their cycle is one of the most helpful aspects of EFT (along with the attachment lens). That’s what unlocks everything to me. We take a situation that feels so stuck, and then once we can see the cycle, it’s like looking at everything from a totally new, much more possible way.
I think we all have the situations, though, where it’s really hard to see the cycle. I notice for myself, when one partner looks like they are more self-focused, and are really aware of getting their needs met but not at all aware of their partner’s needs, that’s when it can be especially hard for me to see the cycle. Once I lose sight of the cycle, I myself become stuck. I’m in the cycle with them, likely aligned with one partner, and I can’t see my way out. Then I start getting hopeless, and thinking one partner just isn’t going to be able to think of anyone but themselves.
This can also happen when one partner’s reaction makes so much sense to me that I don’t bother unpacking it. For example, if someone is really irritable, and their partner gets bothered by that irritability, I don’t always think to stop and say, “hmmm, what’s triggering them right now?” I can go to – “yeah, of course they’re bothered, that irritability looks really rough.” And then my focus shifts to, what is wrong with partner x that they are just so irritable all the time? And not really be unpacking that for either of them.
Do you guys, like I do, have those things that are on the Not Okay List in your brains? For me, I notice the behaviors that I assign as unacceptable are the ones I don’t get curious about and unpack. For me, they are:
really snappy irritability
not seeing someone else’s needs
(anyone wonder what was in my family of origin????)
When I see those I think, NOT OKAY! And just try to then get them to see that’s wrong. And I lose sight of the cycle. And then, stuck there long enough, I think, “Gosh, maybe this person is just really emotionally under developed and we will never get anywhere.”
I think supervision is really the only way I know how to get out of this, and I think it’s our responsibility as therapists to get good supervision for our couples. Once I see my supervisor and she asks good questions, and tells me her reflections, I realize … oh … there’s way more fluidity in this than I’ve been seeing. But I couldn’t see my way outside of it, I was too stuck. I’m also really grateful to my supervisor for holding the possibility that I’m seeing it wrong. I’m really convincing! I’m also a pretty good therapist, so it could be tempting to just trust my instincts. I’m so grateful she can hold the thought I could be not seeing this fully, in a very empathic way, and ask questions about their cycle that help me realize that 4 months in, I really still don’t know exactly what triggers this guy about his wife looking irritable.
So, my new reminder for myself is: if I’m starting to pathologize or lose hope with a client, there is a good chance I have lost their cycle. It’s time to go back and really make sure I know what’s happening in each step of the cycle for them.