Many men imagine couples therapy might go something like this...
I can see where your wife is coming from and I have to say I mainly agree with her. I don’t think you are being fair to her. You might need to work a bit harder on this. You need to be more affectionate, more empathetic, more understanding… More! More! More!
Let’s see how we can make you better so your relationship improves.
Thank you! I’ve been telling him that for months (years) but he doesn’t listen. Now, that a professional agrees with me, he might finally change!
Here are the 6 most common fears why men are hesitant to engage in couples’ therapy.
“I’ll be judged and criticized”
“I will be pressurized to talk about feelings”
“It will be a waste of time”
“I might say things I’ll regret afterwards”
“I might have to make decisions I’d rather avoid making”
“It will just make things worse between us”
Fear One - "I’ll be judged and criticized"
“Life is hard enough at the moment and my partner is constantly complaining. I don’t need another woman (or man) to tell me off. One is too much already. I know I’m not perfect but I’m trying pretty damn hard. I don’t need to hear again how I’m not doing enough. My partner is much better with words than I am. The therapist will side with her and I’ll feel attacked. No, thank you!”
The goal of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is to find where partners get stuck in their relationships.
Both of them are miserable when they are trapped in the repeating pattern of their arguments.
And both desperately want to feel that lost connection again.
We all have different strategies to deal with challenging feelings in an argument. Sometimes these strategies are effective and sometimes not. And most of the time they are automatic, meaning that we have very little control over them.
Here is a typical scenario:
Martha is upset with her husband Alan. He promised to make dinner last night but forgot and went out with his friends instead.
When Martha came home after a very difficult day at work, she finds an empty fridge and no sign of Alan.
Later that night, she angrily tells him how upset she is that he doesn’t care about her and that his friends are always more important to him.
Alan initially tries to apologize but quickly gives up, rolls his eyes and leaves the room saying that he has an early start tomorrow.
Martha follows him, reminding him of past events where she felt abandoned by him. He goes to bed and turns off the light in an attempt to stop the argument.
There are two main strategies we might use in rocky moments of disconnection:
Strategy 1. “Let’s deal with this NOW”.
Martha’s strategy to deal with her hurt and feeling of not being cared for is to turn the emotional heat up in an attempt to make him listen to her.
Strategy 2. “Hide and wait for the storm to pass”.
Alan’s strategy is to turn the emotional heat down in an attempt to stop the explosion from happening.
These two strategies form a classic relational dance that in EFT is called The Protest Polka.
Strategy 1 - partner feels unimportant, not cared for and not heard.
Strategy 2 - partner feels criticized, attacked, confused and sometimes hopeless.
The therapist will help this couple to:
Identify the dance and how they become stuck
Find out how to dance more effectively and feel safe with each other even in a moment of disconnection
Both partners will feel heard and respected by the therapist. There is no judgement as no one person is to blame. They are genuinely using the best strategies they can think of.
Fear Two - “I will be pressurized to talk about feelings”
“Talking about my feelings will not make our relationship better. We are perfectly capable to find solutions ourselves. Discussing feelings will disconnect us even more. Besides I’m not good at this feeling thing. I’ll end up feeling pressurized and annoyed”
Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy will, in fact, be focused on feelings. However, no pressure is involved.
You don’t need to be an expert or even to understand your own feelings.
The therapist will help you to find and communicate what is important for you even if you don’t yet know what it is.
The goal is to make sure both partners needs are met so you can repair your connection and feel close to each other again.
Fear Three - “It will be a waste of time”
“What does that therapist know about our relationship that we don’t? It will be a waste of time and won’t work”
It will take time but as long as you are committed to the process, the chances that therapy will work are high. EFT is the approach that works.
Here are some facts:
studies show that 70-73% of couples report that their issues are resolved and 90% of couples report significant improvement in their relationship.
couples who completed Emotionally Focused Therapy are more resilient and unlikely to ever go back to their old patterns.
Fear Four - “I might say things I’ll regret afterwards”
"I don't want to end up saying things that I will regret which might cause more arguments"
The therapist will help you to communicate what is important for you in a way that doesn’t push your both further away. You will explore the hidden reason for your arguments and frequent misunderstandings that leads to disconnection.
Supported by the therapist you will start taking steps to finding closeness again; a feeling of safety and emotional intimacy with each other. Each partner feels heard and understood as a result.
Fear Five - “I might have to make decisions I’d rather avoid making”
“What if talking about our relationships will push us to make changes I’m not ready for?”
Not addressing the relational distress will, with time, make it more difficult to resolve.
The longer partners feel disconnected from each other, the more negative their interactions become.
After some time these negative interactions develop into a pattern that keeps repeating itself, trapping the couple despite their efforts to stop it.
So don’t wait!
Fear Six - “It will just make things worse between us”
"Couples therapy might exxacerbate the problem beyond repair so what we thought would be helpful has actually made things worse"
The only way out of it is through it.
Talking about old wounds might feel like a challenging task for many people. However, doing it with a professional therapist will most likely lead to healing and deeper bonding between partners.
Relationship therapy is a brave step and often the last hope for many couples.
It can feel scary at first but even after the first session of EFT, most couples feel hopeful about the therapy process they are about to begin.