“My husband says I am the problem in our relationship. He thinks I am the only one who has to change. He says my angry reactions in our communication are hurting us, but I don’t know. What do you think?”
I hear this often as a Couples Counselor, but when it comes to relationships, it takes two to tango, as they say. And in that tango or negative dance, you both do things, and say things to hurt each other. One partner may pursue, and one partner may withdraw. The more one pushes for connection, the more the other one withdraws. In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), we call this the negative dance or cycle. The problem is not you or your partner, the problem is the dance.
I have had several wives tell me the same thing, “When I am upset, I just need him to listen, but he just tells me what to do, or how to fix the problem. That makes me more upset and leaves me feeling alone.” The husbands usually respond back, “I just want to help her, and I don’t want to make her angrier.” The more the husband tries to help or goes into “fix-it mode,” the angrier the wife gets. The husband withdraws because he doesn’t want to get her angrier, and underneath, he is feeling sad and hurt because he was trying to help her. She is also left feeling emotionally alone, misunderstood, sad, and hurt.
It is understandable that in his eyes, she is the problem because she gets mad, yells, and screams. Underneath, she is screaming for connection and to be heard. However, all he sees is the anger. He doesn’t see the hurt, sadness, and pain of not feeling understood by the person she loves the most. The husband is also feeling sad, hurt and misunderstood because he was just trying to help after all! Can you see they both want the same thing and feel the same way? They both want to be heard and understood, and feel sad and hurt when it doesn’t happen. When the dance happens, they push away from each other. The wife may feel he doesn’t care about how she is feeling; he just wants to fix it and move on. She doesn’t see that he does really care and wants to help her, but doesn’t know how to just sit, listen to her and validate her feelings.
Clearly, it is not just the wife’s problem or the husband’s problem. The problem is the dance, and how it pushes them away from each other. In EFT, you learn how to identify the dance, what you and your partner both do in the dance, and the moments when you hurt each other that push you away from each other. Then you learn how to stop the dance, step out of it and communicate with each other in a new way. You learn to speak from your heart, focusing on your feelings and then validating each other’s feelings.
It is possible to change the dance and learn a new way of communicating. You have to be willing to step out of the blame game and focus on your feelings. This can truly save your relationship by bringing you closer together. I have seen it happen many times in my office with clients. When I help a couple slow down; acknowledge the dance; stop the dance and speak from their heart, they are able to immediately calm down, look at each other with tears in their eyes and hear each other maybe for the first time in a long time. When they are done they often hug, hold hands or even kiss! It is a beautiful moment to witness!