Having a healthy, loving and connected relationship is one of the most rewarding experiences. Couples often start out in a good place and can’t imagine things going awry. The biologically necessary attachment bonding chemical process (the “honeymoon” phase) that connects people can also shield each other from what might become cracks in the relationship later. Ideally, when you settle in together and these vulnerabilities start to show themselves, it’s manageable because you can communicate well about the issues.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way as it’s a bit more complicated. Why?
Many couples get stuck in tough spots, neither of them having the needed relationship tools to dig themselves out. There are different ways people deal with these types of challenges based on their prior experiences. These coping mechanisms can come crashing together in ways that propel their negative cycles. This can look like intense outbursts or total retreat and conflict avoidance. Yes, even sweeping issues under the rug and not talking about them actually creates a high level of conflict in the potential for total disconnection if not addressed.
The relationship attachment dynamics, the ways in which each person has learned to instinctively react when under relationship duress, are really important to understand. In order to heal and move forward, the cycles need to be interrupted as emotional safety is increased to prior levels. High-conflict couples have lost their way because of old imprints and the loss of emotional safety between them, things like trust, feeling heard and validated, prioritized, etc. Emotionally Focused Therapy, developed by Sue Johnson, EdD, is a research-supported theory that addresses the above, the goal to create a secure attachment for the couple.
There are EFT trained therapists all over the country who can help but for those who would like to try a self-help route, there is a new book just released in January of 2024 called, Help for High-Conflict Couples: Using Emotionally Focused Therapy and the Science of Attachment to Build Lasting Connection by Jennine Estes Powell, LMFT and Jacqueline Wielick, LMFT.
Being a therapist who works with couples (and individuals) myself, I see all types of relationships and varying stages of distress when they show up in my office. I am not a trained EFT therapist, but I’ve always worked primarily around attachment issues, core beliefs and emotional safety as they all relate to well functioning relationships. This book is an incredible tool for couples to start to get a handle on their issues.
- The writing style is compassionate, relatable and easy to digest, rather than overly clinical.
- It does not offer a band aid approach but rather deeper level change, getting to the core emotional roots for both.
- There are tons of tools and exercises to de-escalate conflict, increase emotional safety and stop damaging relationship cycles.
- There is also attention to self regulation, how to handle it when you’re triggered (as well as when your partner is).
- It includes an exploration of the role of trauma.
- There’s an entire chapter on sex and how these issues show up in the bedroom.
- Relationship vignettes are sprinkled throughout which can be helpful to see how difficult situations can play out.
Trauma can interrupt our ability to respond appropriately to the issue at hand and to ask for reassurance or for our needs to be met. Events that remind our brain of the past often cause unconscious, knee-jerk responses that spiral out of control immediately, causing a waterfall of reactions inside us that, in turn, can trigger our partner’s trauma.
The most important things that high-conflict couples can do to find their way back to a secure and loving connection is to admit they need help. Again, seeing a couples therapist is always ideal, to have someone in the room (or video) with you trained in relationship dynamics, who can hold the bigger picture of your situation without the emotional reactivity you and your partner have.
Because therapy is not always a choice both parties in a relationship want to make, an excellent second choice can be written guidance by a trained therapist. This is what you get with the book and self-help tool, Help for High-Conflict Couples.
Big thumbs up. I believe this book has the potential to help a lot of couples.