Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy For Dummies
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Relationships are hard work, and over time, it’s easy to miss some of the warning signs that things aren’t going well. If you know what signs to look for, you and your partner can work together to get your relationship back on track. Resilient relationships — those that weather the storms of daily life — share some key traits. No matter where your relationship is today, you and your partner can work on incorporating some of these traits in your own lives.

Sex is an important part of a relationship, but what happens outside the bedroom doesn’t stay outside the bedroom — any conflicts or struggles you’re facing can impact your sex life, and vice versa.

Finally, infidelity is one of the biggest challenges some relationships face, but an affair doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship. You and your partner can work together to move beyond an affair.

Recognizing the warning signs of a struggling relationship

No relationship is perfect. Couples should expect to have their fair share of conflicts, but how they deal with these conflicts can be a sign of strength or distress. You can get in trouble when you lose sight of the ways that everyday issues can become insurmountable problems over time. Here are some warning signs that can signal a relationship is in trouble:

  • Few arguments ever get resolved. Most couples have common issues they argue about, but when couples find they can’t get to a resolution of key issues in their relationship, the relationship is in trouble.

  • You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around issues. If you find yourself avoiding topics and protecting yourself from conflicts in your relationship, this is a sign that there is a lack of safety in the relationship. Understanding the danger that is being avoided is essential.

  • You find it difficult to reach to your partner for emotional support. Emotional disengagement in a romantic relationship drains the life from a relationship. If you no longer trust your partner with emotional vulnerability, your relationship is at risk.

  • You find yourself spending less time together for no good reason. Partners who choose to spend less time together without purpose are often enacting emotional disengagement. Time is a crucial resource for sustaining intimacy.

  • Your arguments often include criticism, defensiveness, and contempt. When conflicts take on patterns that include attacks against a partner’s character, mindreading, counter-complaining, and insults or name calling, damage is being done to the emotional security of the relationship.

  • It has been months since you showed your partner you needed them, or vice versa. Shared vulnerability is how partners show and share intimacy. When partners stop depending on each other, their relationship loses its importance and closeness is lost.

  • Anger and frustration over couple issues has turned to apathy and indifference. Partners who give in to apathy and indifference are moving away from the relationship. Active acceptance of an unresolved difference or disagreement is purposeful. Giving up on an issue can be a step toward giving up on the relationship.

  • You find yourself trying to control circumstances rather than trust your partner. Controlling actions are a common way in which injured or fearful partners respond to insecurity in their relationship. These efforts at control undermine efforts to rebuild trust.

  • You don’t share more personal thoughts and feeling without fear of criticism. A common sign of insecurity is fear of your partner’s lack of care and concern. Managing this fear through withdrawal is a short-term solution to eroding trust, which can threaten a long-term relationship.

If you recognize three or more of these warning signs in your relationship, your relationship may be in significant trouble. You may want to consider talking to a couple therapist.

Six keys to a resilient relationship

Resilient relationships may not be perfect, but they are resourceful. Couples who are able to maintain a stable balance of positive emotions are more adaptive in the face of adversity. It’s common for a couple to face challenges from their own relationship and those around them. Here are six keys to a resilient relationship:

  • Being available and responsive to each other’s needs: Being responsive when your partner needs you to listen after a tough day, or needs you to pick up the kids in a bind — these types of things show that you care.

  • Telling stories about how, as a couple, you’ve overcome difficult circumstances: Taking a look at what you’ve overcome together pinpoints your successes. Negatives can steal away the positive accomplishments if you aren’t careful.

  • Facing your fears and sharing your needs as a couple: The most successful couples confide in each other when life throws a real curveball. If you’re scared that you’ve really hurt the other, for example, step up to the plate and admit it, and then share that you don’t want to be that kind of a person.

  • Investing in memories and activities that remind you how important you are to each other: Make a list of places and activities that you enjoy together, and act on it.

  • Making quick attempts at repairing hurts or misunderstandings: Missteps, disappointments, and arguments are common in healthy couples. Successfully repairing these issues strengthens a couple’s relationship.

  • Communicating worth to each other and seeing purpose in your relationship: Make sure you tell each other how much they mean to you from time to time. It may seem awkward, but the more you dive in and do it, the easier it gets.

Reigniting the passion in your sex life

Couples who maintain emotionally safe relationships find new ways to explore their relationships and renew their lives sexually. Here are some suggestions for reigniting your passion:

  • Review your expectations. Realistic expectations are the basis for a satisfied sex life. Life isn’t a romance novel or a porn flick. Making things real between you begins with connecting at an emotional level in your relationship.

  • Recognize that great sex begins in your relationship, not just in your bedroom. Clean up the kitchen, notice how your partner looks, give them a compliment in the morning, and show your partner that you think of them even when you aren’t together. These things can often help pave the road to desire.

  • Keep in mind that couples are more adventurous and playful when they feel emotionally secure. In turn, couples are more secure when they enjoy a satisfying sex life. So, don’t just work on one or the other.

  • Take the pressure off. Finding times to express physical affection (touching, holding, caressing) without intercourse can take the pressure off helping you and your partner better express your sexual needs and desires.

  • Practice emotional presence. Showing up for sex is about more than being physically ready — it’s about being emotionally present. When you’re emotionally present, you see your partner and his or her emotional needs.

  • Put aside sexual activities that one of you isn’t interested in. If both of you aren’t into it, don’t press the issue. Pressure feeds anxiety, and anxiety is the enemy of arousal.

  • Take time to talk about what matters to you sexually, not in the heat of the moment. Talking about sex away from participating in it can allow each of you to be less defensive and more open to sharing and listening.

  • Make time to make out. Younger couples sometimes think that setting up times for sex is too routine, but many couples with children or busy careers find ways to schedule closeness. Anticipating these times can be a real turn-on.

  • Know yourself, know your body, know your needs, and then communicate what you know. Every body is different. Different strokes for different folks. Get to know your partner and what works for him or her. And help your partner know what works for you.

  • Get outside your routine. Try something new, but keep in mind that taking risks begins with feeling safe to explore. Be creative and invest in spontaneity.

Rebuilding your relationship after an affair

Infidelity is a leading cause of divorce, yet more couples stay married following an affair than get divorced. Rebuilding after an affair requires couples to face the infidelity and the patterns in their relationship in different ways. Keep in mind that time does heal…but not on its own. Here are some things to keep in mind when rebuilding after an affair:

  • Agree to be honest and address critical questions. Being open and willing to disclose appropriate details helps to reduce the distress associated with the affair.

  • Respect and accept the pain of the faithful partner. Affairs damage the trust in a relationship. Acknowledging this injury and its impact — including the hurt felt by the non-affair partner — is a crucial step in building trust.

  • The offending partner must show remorse and responsibility. Showing remorse and acknowledging that your partner’s pain matters to you are essential for opening the possibility of healing and renewing trust. Remorse without responsibility is empty remorse and doesn’t build trust.

  • Expect setbacks and return of painful feelings. Healing from an affair means facing memories, triggers, and consequences of the affair together. These triggers, while disruptive, are expected in the early stages of facing an affair.

  • Keep clear boundaries, and avoid circumstances that could increase risk. Rebuilding trust requires proactive steps to close off the affair relationship and to minimize exposure to circumstances and situations that could trigger painful memories.

  • Make meaning of the past and focus on the future. Renewing love and commitment following an affair requires a couple to makes sense of how the affair happened and what that means for the relationship both now and for the future.

  • Recognize that the process of healing from an affair is painful to both partners in different ways. Deciding to rebuild trust requires both partner to face fears, grieve losses, and examine the personal decisions in the relationship.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Brent Bradley, PhD, is Associate Professor of Family Therapy at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and president of The Couple Zone (www.couplezone.org). Dr. Bradley is a certified emotionally focused couple therapist, supervisor, and trainer. James Furrow, PhD, is Professor of Marital and Family Therapy at the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology. Dr. Furrow is executive director of the Los Angeles Center for EFT and a certified emotionally focused couple therapist, supervisor, and trainer.

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