It is interesting to me how much, as adults, we assume we know how to be in healthy committed relationships. We think it's a "no brainer" or "common sense" when, really, it is one of the most challenging things we will ever do. We are tested in all kinds of ways in our intimate relationship. We try over and over again to make things better using the same ol' skills and tricks we have been using for years and get frustrated when our partner isn't getting on our page.
Is any of this familiar?
If you weren't so ________ I wouldn't be _________!
Will you just "let it go?"
If you could just be more (or less) ________ we wouldn't BE in this situation!
Why is this coming up AGAIN?
Can you NOT be a jerk for once?
Why do you get so mad all the time?
What did I do now?
You say this EVERY single time!
You NEVER listen to me!
Why are you always on my case?
Don't you have anything to say?
I knew it... you don't really care about me.
Why is it always like this with you?
Every couple is challenged with escalated moments in their relationship from time to time and that is to be expected... we're human beings trying to love other human beings.
When it starts to feel like a problem
What becomes problematic is when these moments are happening more frequently than not and couples can't seem to find a way to get out. We get lost in those places when we are escalated and often find it hard to hear, see or understand our partner. Couples become stuck and, even when they know they love each other, still seem to not know where to go from there. When we are doing this over and over again, it can easily become exhausting for both partners... not because we stop caring but because we simply don't know what else to do.
Three key components
In Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples, there are three key things that help serve as the foundation for an emotionally safe, healthy and connected relationship. These three things include:
If it helps, just remember "A.R.E."
Accessibility means that we are open to our partner approaching us and that we feel comfortable to move toward our partner with something. They let us know they are available to us and vice versa.
Responsiveness refers to answering the call. If my person moves toward me with something I will acknowledge their presence and respond. Likewise, when I call to my person, I feel confident that they will hear me and respond to my call.
Engagement is knowing that our person is interested and present with us. If I bring something to my person, I feel confident that they will engage in conversation with me and there will be dialogue. In turn, when my partner brings something to me, I will engage with them and tune into what is happening.
Take a personal inventory
When couples find themselves in a pattern of distress, it might be that something in the foundation of A.R.E. is lacking or missing. Take a look at your interactions with your partner and reflect... Am I offering A.R.E to him/her? What might I be doing or saying that would suggest I'm not Accessible, Responsive and/or Engaged with them?
At times when we are hurting, it can be really challenging to want to look at the ways we are showing up in the relationship. We become laser focused on what the other person is doing, or not doing, and how they are the problem. It goes without saying that relationships are a two-way street and there is likely something we are contributing to this cycle or pattern as well.
The more we can personally take inventory like this the sooner we can make adjustments and practice influencing positive change. If you find it is too difficult, it might be worth talking about with a professional third party (insert my smiling face here) to see what is happening in the dynamic that is contributing to feeling stuck and leaving you both unable to connect.
It's not about being perfect
Remember, whether you are doing this with a counselor or on your own at home, it is more important that you are intentionally trying to learn something new than whether you are "performing perfectly" or "getting it right." Most people respond positively when they see and feel their partner trying to grow, learn and find new ways to become close to them. It lets them know that they matter and are worth making an effort to do something different.
Have a wonderful afternoon!
Licensed Professional Counselor
9219 Middlebrook Pike
Knoxville, TN 37931
I am also a contributing mental health writer at