Every couple has cycles that recur whether they are more or less intense. There are times when you get stuck in the same fight over and over around what can seem trivial, but with an emotional intensity that might not correspond to the thing you're fighting about. Other times, you may not fight at all, but know that there is tension and distance brewing beneath the surface. Over time, repeating patterns, because they seem to come out of nowhere, can chip away at feelings of closeness and trust. Each partner tries his or her best, but can feel that something is standing in the way of what was before natural and easy. I work specifically and am Certified (by ICEEFT) in 'Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy', which is a hands-on, present-oriented approach that gets at the root of negative communication patterns, helping you to turn them around. My focus is to help you communicate more effortlessly while re-gaining closeness, trust, and intimacy.
Here are two links to clips by Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy: What is a Healthy Marriage? youtu.be/1dab34E4ON0 How can I tell if my marriage is in trouble? youtu.be/VfFEhLagGFE
My partner sometimes minimizes my feelings, sometimes he thinks I’m overreacting. I’m just left feeling empty and abandoned - it just seems like my feelings aren’t taken that seriously.
This is a common issue in couples. You probably never quite feel your thoughts or feelings are being taken seriously. You might then tend to push harder in order to feel heard and acknowledged. In response, your partner probably continues to try to 'calm you down', get defensive, and withdraw emotionally. You are probably left feeling abandoned and hurt, but might start to express this in an angry, frustrated, critical way. This can be interpreted as demanding or attacking by your partner who then may get defensive while still pulling away. You just wanted your partner to connect with you, to 'get' you, but you are left feeling misunderstood and more alone. Your partner is actually trying his or her best to keep the connection unharmed by shutting down any potential for conflict. This is the negative cycle at work, the spiral that many couples get into particularly in times of stress.
So how do we fix this downward spiral? We keep trying to work on our communication, but it seems like we’re in a grip of something we can’t control.
Yes, it can feel like a chinese puzzle, the more you move, the tighter the grip becomes until you feel you can no longer move at all. The key to stopping the spiral is first getting a very clear understanding of what you and your partner’s particular negative cycle looks like. What types of events trigger it and what kind of feelings do each of you experience when it comes up. How do you behave when in the midst of your cycle? In therapy, we look to understand the more vulnerable and scary feelings that underlie our more protective, knee-jerk reactions. Once we understand the cycle, as well as what lurks beneath actions that before seemed hurtful, critical, or withdrawing, we begin to see ourselves and our partner in a different way.
It feels like I'm constantly giving and it never seems like enough to my partner - am I doing something wrong? Why do I always end up feeling like I’m missing something?
Your partner probably feels like he/she is not getting the closeness that they want and need from you, even though you are doing everything in your power to provide that. You probably feel like no matter what you do, it isn’t right, so you might even try to calm your partner’s needs down, by telling him or her to lighten up, calm down, or simply recognize all that you are doing. Your partner meanwhile doesn’t feel listened to, probably feels dismissed or minimized, and to you might just seem frustrated or demanding all the time. You try, but you don’t want to be in constant conflict (or in trouble), so you try your best and protect yourself by withdrawing. Your partner ends up increasingly frustrated and alone, not heard and feeling unimportant. You don’t know that because he or she is probably expressing this feeling of hurt by getting angry, criticizing you, or simply giving up and pulling away. This is a similar scenario to the first scenario, only in reverse. You are the partner who might be afraid you are somehow deficient and you don't want anything to rock the boat of harmony with your partner, so you are doing everything in your power to not let that happen. Your partner continues to feel alone, misunderstood, and abandoned while continually trying to show you what he or she needs. You are both caught in negative spin cycle and the same thing as outlined above will be our approach in therapy.
I don’t know how to get over my partner’s affair last year, it has complicated things between us and I don’t even know if our relationship is salvageable.
There can be painful betrayals, even affairs within a relationship, and they can be slowly healed. It takes a lot of trust, sharing, and particularly listening in order for the trust to rebuild at its own pace. This takes time and guidance, where the betrayed partner needs to feel completely understood - held in his or her feelings of sadness, loss, and shock. These kinds of feelings must be given a lot of room. When they are minimized or there is an impatience to 'get over it', then the hurt party will clam up and not be able to heal. Therapy is a good place to go through this process. I will help you maintain and hold a space of empathy so that the hurt can be healed. It is only after this that the more underlying issues in the partnership can be addressed and turned around.
We were the perfect couple until we had children. Now we have trouble making time for each-other, end up bickering when we do, and just feel frustrated a lot of the time.
Having babies and young children, while an amazing time in your life, usually brings along bumps in the relationship. First of all, it’s inevitably stressful - finances, time, parenting styles, to name a few - create new hurdles in any partnership. Also, the relationship literally and figuratively has to go through an adjustment to let in another person. This is just one of the many adjustments you will go through. What typically happens when this kind of stress arises, is that you and your partner will likely be pulled into a pattern that we could also call a cycle. It may be subtle, or it might be more glaring, but my job as your therapist will be to help you understand your particular cycle, to find out how and in what situations it gets triggered, and to turn it around. That way, you can face the very real challenges and wonders of this time as a close, loving, and bonded team.