When Clients Are Sick of Hearing "The Cycle"

I got a great email from a reader last week asking for a post on this tough topic. I love getting requests for topics - it helps me, too! This one’s for you, SRC!

Every now and then we do get clients who get sick of us using “the cycle” in our language as we help track what happens. This puts us in a tough spot, since so much of the work in Stage 1 is about helping them realize they are getting caught in this cycle of reactivity. The cycle is also a way we try to lift blame off of the couple. It’s not that you’re a jerk or she’s a jerk, it’s that this unhelpful cycle is created out of your interpretations, feelings, and actions.

If we zoom all the way out, I wonder if a couple who gets annoyed hearing “the cycle” is also stuck seeing the other person as the main problem. I find that such a hard part of Stage 1, where with some couples you’ve really got a long road to help them see what’s happening as co-reactivity.

If you have a couple who is giving you death glares or rolling their eyes every time you drop “the cycle” into a sentence, I’d start with this path:


Ask yourself why you think they hate it.

  • Is it because one is adamant that the other person is to blame, and gets reactive around the idea it’s mutual?

  • Is it because they feel too boxed in, and see themselves as unique and not like other couples?

  • Is because there is a glaring issue, like alcohol abuse, or cheating, and “the cycle” feels invalidating or mismatched to their experience?

Experiential (In the Room)

I’ve tried the following interventions with some success:

Asking them. “It seems like it’s bugging you when I say ‘the cycle’ - what am I missing? Where is that hitting you funny?”

Joking around about it. “I know, you guys are so sick of hearing me say ‘the cycle’! I am doing it to help you guys see that neither one of you are jerks, but you get caught in this dance that neither one of you want to be in.”

Simply not using the phrase ‘the cycle.’ I will unpack each side and do enactments as I usually would, and say things instead like, “here’s where you get caught,” or “here’s where you guys get knocked off balance,” or “here’s the place no one wants to be, but our emotions are understandably strong.”

With all of this, what you’re really looking for is alliance and attunement. Is there a way to understand and validate what they hate about it, to get you back into a place of alliance and attunement. Sometimes joking works, but you’ve got to feel out if it’s working based on their reactions.

Share any helpful things you’ve tried in the comments below! Man, this is endurance work, isn’t it?