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Understanding Your Negative Cycle

In your relationship or marriage, maybe you’ve found yourself getting caught up in a rollercoaster-type experience where you and your wife, girlfriend or partner fight for some time, and then all goes back to serenity, and then it happens again and again, with constant repetition and no solution.

Fighting and conflict happen repeatedly, in a cycle format, and usually it’s tough to see what triggers your fall into fighting, conflict and attacks. When we’re in the fighting, we have no perspective. How can we help ourselves get out of it?

As a fundamental component of the model of couples therapy known as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), developed by Canadian psychologist Susan Johnson, PhD., identifying your negative cycle consists of looking at certain layers that exist behind the conflict you get into and actually see.

Many couples who seek therapy find themselves often getting caught in “negative cycles” or patterns of interactions. A negative cycle is a repetitive pattern of behaviors, thoughts and feelings that cause distress.  It is common that one individual will react to the other individuals’ reactions and so forth…a cycle is created which can be hard to break.

The negative cycle typically consists of negative behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that causes distress. We get sucked into this “vortex” and have a difficult time seeing ourselves when we get lost in our “cycle.” We often resort to reactive (and hurtful) words, actions and facial gestures when we are upset, needing something from our partner, or not feeling connected or understood.

When you get lost in conflict, look out for these things that you might be doing to aggravate your negative cycle:

  • Avoiding or withdrawing from your partner
  • Saying hurtful things that produce more conflict
  • Feelings that bubble up that don’t get communicated
  • Not feeling like you’re being heard
  • Trigger words or statements your partner says that cause you to react
  • Identifying what you’re telling yourself about your relationship (or your partner) when in conflict
  • What behaviors you engage in when you’re upset

The exercise below will help you get started with this process:

When my partner and I are not getting along:

  • I often react by (describe behaviors)…
  • My partner often reacts to me by (describe behaviors)…
  • When my partner reacts this way, I often feel…
  • When I feel this way, I see myself as…
  • When I feel this way, I long for or need…
  • When I react the way I do, I guess that my partner feels…
  • Describe your negative cycle (include how you and your partner trigger each other’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors)…

For further help, read Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight,” an excellent read to help you learn more about EFT and understanding your negative cycle.

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