A Glimpse into Couples Counseling

The overall goal I have in working with couples is helping create, enhance a new interaction. I rely on the Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) framework as a map because it fosters a way of helping one "build a bridge of inner experience to outer world interaction". The reality is the we have certain positions / styles of relating that affects us and others around us. Dr. Sue Johnson notes "a partner's position not only reflects a person's experience, it creates it". This means what we perceive from another person absolutely creates a certain personality / way of interacting in the relationship. I find that it is less about one person being right or wrong but more about the combined interactive pattern. That's why is so hard to break a certain cycle of fights (i.e. the same old song and dance). Many respond that they seem to have the same fights over and over. This is due to the cyclical pattern. This pattern is really the problem not the other. Therefore, the first step in the process is "to identify the pattern / position we rely on in times of vulnerabilities". 

It is after we have stepped out of the dance, come around our wall of defense that we can begin to be open to dancing a new dance / connecting in a new way. 

These are notes taken from Dr. Sue Johnson's book entitled "Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist".

The Emotional Roller Coaster

I don't know what it is but it just seems like we tend to want to run away from conflict the same we want to run away from feeling our emotions. I think it is either embedded in our DNA or we have had experiences through our life that has either consciously or subconsciously said "it is not OK to feel those certain emotions".  It think it is probably a combination of the two. As it relates to our humanness, there is not much to talk about other than "it is what it is". As for the later regarding our experiences, there is something we can do. We can begin to name it, feel it, tell it, and grieve it. It is through this process that we begin to see these emotions move from extreme highs and lows to a more regulated state. Our emotions will still go up and down feeling extreme at times but they do not have to override our limbic system like they do when we get activated / triggered by comments, events, or thoughts. 

I believe the beauty of relationship is that we get to be healing agents for others in their story and vice versa. Couples counseling strives to do this. It is the hope to connect in new, deeper ways of intimacy providing a sense of security...a feeling of home. 

The Dance

I was recently reminded the song "It's Me" by Sara Groves that shows such a poignant picture of disconnection in a marriage. Disconnection is very much like a tornado that hits without notice. It happens so quickly. One moment you and your partner are happy, connected, peaceful and then with one look your alone, hurt, disconnected, confused, and angry. How does this happen and what do you do to end this?

The reality is that we all will have moments of disconnection. Disconnection is a commonality among all relationships. A healthy relationship is one that can reconnect with honesty, safety, and security. This connection ends up actually being stronger than it was before. That is the beauty of a healthy relationship.

Emotionally Focused Therapy's goal is all about helping couples find their way back to secure connection. This video is a great picture of that process. Intimate relationships are a dance. The moment when a person can reach for the other and embrace is such a powerful healing moment. It is also very hard and risky when you are in the moment of heightened emotions. The beauty of relationship is that your partner is there to be a healing agent for you and vice versa. 

The Pain of Fear

Fear is at the core of all of us. It is the bottom emotion from which we are so often operating out of yet cannot see. Fear masks itself behind anger, pride, shame, hurt, and excitement. Fear is powerful and unavoidable. The real challenge is what to we do with it but also who we are in it. 

I have found that fear comes in the form of future anticipation or a present moment. Either way, fear is and can be extraordinarily disturbing. Fear spawns anxiety, panic attitudes, stress, increased heart rates, insomnia, depression, and the list goes one. Fear cannot and is not meant to be dealt with alone. For so many of us, we have learned to cope by being self reliant and self sufficient. 

Fear is best regulated by another person. We need others to sooth us. We need to be comforted. This may sound trite or obvious but how often do we really talk about our fears with others in a vulnerable way? We sometimes will hint or talk about fear behind our anger or desperation but to talk about fear from an exposed and gentle way is very difficult. 

There is something so sacred and holy around moments where people comfort other people. These moments of comfort are so needed by all of us but often times are rare. Think back to the last time a person comforted you. What was it like and how did it turn out? Most likely it was positive. The negative for many people is in trying to remember when that last time occurred. You are not alone if you are in that category. In fact, you are probably in the majority. 

The risk comes in letting yourself be known that you are afraid. The other risk is whether or not the other person will respond. Deep and intimate relationships are very risky in that we risk ourself in being seen, heard, and responded too. Emotionally Focused Therapy is entirely focused on helping couples connect in these moments. 

Video describing Emotions and the Brain

Dr. Sue Johnson provides a helpful video of what happens to our brain as it relates to intimacy particularly with our spouse. It highlights the fact that when we get disconnected we often feel threatened by our spouse instead of being soothed. Her research actually is able to decipher certain areas of the brain that are similar to those of fear and immediate threat. 

Often times, if not most of the time, we may feel threatened by our spouse and it is purely emotional. These threats come in many forms and I'm not even talking about overt physical threats. These are emotional threats that many of us experience where it comes in the form of anger, fear, and hurt. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy shows to be such a great map to help us connect in places where we used to feel threatened. 

Below is Dr. Sue's Johnsons' video

What it is like feeling disconnected...

There is an epic song by Band of Horses that I just keep playing over and over. It is titled "No One's Gonna Love You". The first part of the song goes like this...

It's looking like a limb torn off, 
Or altogether just taken apart
We're reeling through an endless fall
We are the ever-living ghost of what once was
But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one's gonna love you more than I do

When I hear this song. I hear it being a call to love, relationship, marriage, and the fight for "once was". For me, when I'm in a fight with my wife I can forget "Truth". I forget that she loves me and that I really belong. I find that it is like this old script that takes over saying that "I don't belong" and / or that "I will be forgotten". It is because of these false truths that I then find myself trying to fight for me instead of fighting for us. I make it about her instead of making it about the disconnection. In my sanity, I see that its the disconnection that is the problem not her. 

The challenge is that it is so much easier to pick a fight with her because she is right there. This abstract idea of disconnection is just kinda of out there. How does one even fight that? The same is true with our heart. I find myself throwing the word "heart" around but its so intangible and allusive. In the moment of a fight I'm scared period. I'm scared that what I want is not important. It is like I'm back to being a boy again that is being too needy and being a baby. Then when I'm feeling like that, I certainly don't want to feel needy. To be needy and vulnerably is weak and bad. Or is it? 

What if that is the place where I'm most me in the rawest form? What I mean is what if that is the place where I am most human. When I see my three year old son crying and needy I see a boy that just longs to be held. This is still true for me too. I am made for that, we all are. I heard it said today that our fear is not made to be fixed it is made to be soothed. That was great news to me.

In some way, heart and connection is the intersection of our soul with God. I believe and have found that when I am connected emotionally with another I feel closest to God as well. That is the beauty of communion.

For the full song ( Click Here )

We belong here...

Today, I was driving home listening to a beautiful and stirring song by Ryan Adams. The song is titled, "I Love You But I Don't Know What To Say". I connected to the truth of the song especially the title. Just this very morning, I was sitting next to my wife listening to her share her heart and I thought to myself that words cannot do justice to the beauty of the moment and to the beauty of her. It is one of those moments when silence is so much better. Sometimes words don't have to be said and connection can still be made.

It seems like so much of the cultures mindset is that we have to bargain in marriage. What if we don't? What if relationship is so much more than win/lose or lose/win. I think on a high level some of that is necessary but deep down it is so much more. I certainly have experienced it. The crazy thing is that love is paradoxical. What I mean by this, is that a place (a connection) exists, where it doesn't matter whether I'm the one giving or receiving because its all the same. The connection (i.e. love) takes over and the one serving ends up receiving something unforeseen and vice versa. The paradox is that either way both partners win. This unforeseen grace comes in all sorts of forms but the heart of it is that the connection stays strong with the other. That is the gift. I have experienced this and definitely want more of it. I believe this is what we were created to have and experience. 

So, here is the hard and confusing part...it takes each of us risking and showing our feelings of fear (like the fear of being abandoned and rejected) while not knowing how the other will respond. It is this soft childlike fear that is so hard to show: the fear of reaching and not knowing if we will be held. Yet the only way to know is to reach and therefore, risk it all.

Here is the link to Ryan Adams song and video 

Craig Barnes - "We don't mend each other's brokeness..."

Craig Barnes wrote a great description on marriage in his book Yearning: Living Between How It Is & How It Ought To Be, where he made the following statement that I will never forget. Barnes' says, "We don't mend each other's brokenness; we just hold it tightly" (p. 93). When I hear this...I realize just how inadequate I am for my wife. But isn't that the beauty and purpose of marriage? I've realized that when our spouse is reaching for us, he or she is not reaching to get us to "fix them". Rather, they are asking us to "be with them". Barnes also mentions that "in God's design we do not manage our needs, we confess them" (p. 93). To confess means to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable requires being safe...safe enough to be held.