We Affect Each Other
I had asked Craig and Leslie to walk me through their typical fight. Without blinking, Leslie began explaining that she and Craig don’t share the same priorities. She stated that she does the brunt of the housework, things like emptying the dishwasher, cleaning, and laundry. Craig sat quietly, staring off until Leslie stated that he makes her feel disrespected and unimportant. At the mention of her feelings, Craig came alive. He turned and coldly stated, “I cannot affect the way you feel.”
Psychologist Fritz Perls popularized the idea that “no one has or ever will make you feel anything.” This concept has been challenged by Attachment Theory, which questions the desire of being self-reliant. After all, to be truly unaffected would be a life without the pleasurable feelings that result from intimacy and connection with others.
We Affect Each Other
My experience as a relationship and marriage counselor has proven that people absolutely affect each other. This makes sense intuitively. We often move towards feelings of love and happiness while we protest, reject, and attempt to move away from unhappy emotions. Nobody wants to feel like they are failing, unwanted, unloved, or unimportant.
With work and practice, this couple learned how they react in times of hurt and disappointment. They also learned that their actions provide messages to one another. Messages that then impact feelings. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) refers to this idea as the cycle. The basic premise is that when we can identify the ways in which we affect one another, we can start to change the negative interactions and begin to shape positive interactive cycles. In turn, positive emotions arise and negative feelings are regulated. This then leads to more connection between partners.
Throughout our time working together, Leslie discovered that she wasn’t truly upset about the dishes, cleaning, or laundry. Rather, through his inaction, Leslie got the message that Craig viewed her as unimportant. When she was hurt, Leslie protested and yelled (as many do in this type of scenario). While unintentional, this emotional expression essentially communicated to Craig that he had failed her. Failing felt crummy and as a result, Craig would reject her negative feelings. In this way, Craig’s statement to Leslie was not actually rooted in a belief that he had no emotional affect on her. Rather, his sentiment was coming from not wanting to be the person who made her feel unimportant.
Understanding Your Cycle
Get an understanding on the dynamics impacting your communication, connection, and intimacy. I suggest the following resources:
1. Seek out therapeutic intervention from a professional who specializes in relationship dynamics.
2. Head “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson. Not only is this a good introduction to EFT, but this book helps couples understand their own negative interaction cycles by providing relatable and accessible examples.
3. Learn more about yourself, each other, and your relationship by doing “An Emotionally Focused Workbook For Couples” by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald. As the description states, “the workbook is intended for use with couples who want to enhance their emotional connection or overcome their relationship distress.”
For more information on Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), visit www.iceeft.com
*Craig and Leslie are not a real couple.