ERP 409: How To Experience An Opening During A Difficult Conversation For More Progress & Connection — An Interview With Chad and Angela Imhoff

By Posted in - Podcast January 31st, 2024 0 Comments

Navigating conflicts with a romantic partner can feel like an impossible challenge for many couples. Disagreements are a natural part of any long-term relationship as each individual brings a unique set of experiences, needs, and communication styles to the dynamic. 

Conflicts often escalate quickly as defensiveness and hurt feelings take over, resulting in distance rather than resolution. Without tools to reframe discussions, truly listen without judgment, and repair misunderstandings, the relationship itself can be damaged over time by an accumulation of unaddressed issues.

In this episode, we offer valuable insights for effectively handling these challenges. Drawing on concepts from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), we explore methods to deliberately slow down reactions and enhance self-awareness, uncovering the underlying dynamics at play. The principles of EFT guide individuals to navigate conflicts with empathy, fostering a genuine desire to fully understand their partner. Practical strategies are presented, providing a toolkit for fostering openings in challenging conversations.

Dr. Chad Imhoff is an EFT Certified Therapist, EFT Supervisor, and the director of the Arkansas EFT Community. He serves as Clinical Director of the Joshua Center, where he is also a therapist. Angela received her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and is a Certified Life and Relationship Coach. They have a passion for helping couples have relational transformation and are devoted to seeing healing and change happen among individuals, couples, and families.

In this episode

6:04 The transformative journey of Dr. Chad and Angela Imhoff in relationship therapy.

17:07 The influence of attachment theory in relationship dynamics.

21:26 How appraisal theory shapes relationship dynamics.

32:22 Understanding and honoring attachment styles.

35:31 Real-life examples showing how couples continue to navigate and understand the details of their relationships over time.

49:55 Navigating relationship triggers: Transforming conflict into understanding and growth.

56:56 Advanced strategies for navigating triggers and fostering connection.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Practice slowing down when confronted with relationship triggers, deliberately taking your time to respond and creating space for awareness.
  • Pay attention to the physical sensations and signals your body sends during interactions, as these cues provide valuable insights into your emotional state.
  • Foster a culture of openness by embracing vulnerability and expressing your internal experiences and feelings to your partner, thus creating a deeper connection.
  • Cultivate curiosity about your partner’s experiences instead of making assumptions, fostering a better understanding of their perspective.
  • Recognize your and your partner’s attachment styles to better comprehend the underlying dynamics influencing your relationship.
  • Initiate repair conversations after conflicts, taking responsibility for your actions, expressing vulnerability, and seeking mutual understanding.
  • Regularly reflect on your interactions to identify areas of improvement and self-reflect on your actions.
  • If unresolved issues persist or your relationship faces significant challenges, seek the assistance of a qualified therapist to navigate and heal together.

Mentioned

Dr. Sue Johnson

George Faller

Dr. Ryan Rana

Success in Vulnerability

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Chad and Angela Imhoff

Websites: therealimhoffs.com

Facebook: facebook.com/RealImhoffs

YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCfVV6z7ni2C8MrlEX4UrP5A

Podcast: podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/connecting-couples/id1518876330

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Chad and Angela, thank you so much for being here with us.

Yeah, thank you for having us. We’re excited to be here. This is awesome.

Yeah. I know we’re just getting acquainted, yet we are in a similar affiliation with the EFT community, the Emotionally Focused Therapy. You had asked how did I even find you, and I mentioned being on a listserv and people were speaking highly of your work. So I really am excited to share some of what you’re helping couples, in the way of what you’re teaching and your support and your therapeutics guidance. I love that we’re going to be talking about markers for long-term success in relationship and health and secure functioning. 

So before we get started into that topic, I would love for people to hear from you both around where you got connected to serving people in this space, in relationship and couples work. 

Well, I’ll dive in first, if that’s okay. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life in some ways. I had lots of different careers and done all kinds of different things in my 20s and early 30s, and I thought I’m just not satisfied. I had my own struggles with relationship. I’ve actually been divorced before. So when I got divorced and I was looking at what I want to do, what mattered to me, all I could come up with was go help somebody; go find a way to help and support other humans. So as I did that, I thought: Man, therapy seems like a way that I could do that! So I went to grad school, and actually, that’s where Angela and I met was we were both doing master’s in marriage and family therapy. I’ve got to tell you, that’s where I met Ryan, another mentor and friend of mine. Really, since I guess 2010, we’ve been on this path of really helping couples in growing. Yeah, some of it was for us. But really just because the purpose for me in life is to go and make people’s lives better. It makes me feel good. It gets me motivated. It fires me up. I get lots of energy from what I do. So that’s kind of a little backstory for me. Yeah, it came out of a little bit of hurt, but also there’s just hope in all of this as well.

I’ll dive into mine, and then how they interjected or how we came together. I grew up in a family that I thought was a really solid family; mom and dad still together, successful careers, high markers of education, went to private schools. I had all the signs that I should have been able to couple well and succeed, and I did not. I married my high school sweetheart, and really quickly, didn’t have the skills or wherewithal to navigate some of the really hard things that were coming up in our relationship, including some affairs and things on his side that I just didn’t know how to navigate. That marriage ended and was really hard on me. So I got into therapy, and my therapist started talking to me, and I was like: “Tell me what happened. I don’t understand how I broke, basically.” My undergrad is in film, so I have zero training or understanding of the therapeutic world. Even in my family of origin, therapy was not something that we did as a family. It was what those people who need help did. So I found myself in therapy going: “I don’t understand. Show me what broke me down, and then help put me back together basically.” I also had gone to a support group for divorce recovery and didn’t love some of the ways that people were reconnecting. I wasn’t ready to start dating again, and I found a lot of people in that circle were immediately trying to start dating again. 

So I found a different 12-step program that aligned with what I was doing in my recovery process. So in 12th step, I started to help other people, and recognize that not only did I not have the understanding of my own story, but I don’t know how to help them not do their next bad thing, or how to break down addiction or tendencies. So my therapist, he was also a professor at a university locally, and he said: “Hey, why don’t you consider taking this family of origin class?” I was like, okay. So I signed up to get my master’s, not only just really to take a class. First Family Systems class I ever took was like: “Umm, my family is dysfunctional, as am I.” Really mind-blowing! I was like, I’m going to go back and tell my family how dysfunctional they are. That didn’t work well. But really started the journey for us. I met him in one of the first semesters in our class. Both of us divorced with pain in our past, basically asking the same question you’re asking: what makes long-term relationship work? Because neither one of us had succeeded at it, nor did we feel we had the answers. Part in therapy or in grad school to learn the answers for ourselves. Part because other people out there didn’t have the answers, and we wanted to learn it and pass it on. 

Yes. Well, I appreciate you just even acknowledging. I mean, that was what I was really sensing from both of your short summary and description, that you were both in pursuit of a deeper understanding and a deeper knowledge. But not knowledge in a headway, like the experiential ways of cultivating, co-creating relationship in a healthy way, and also wanting to make a difference. So it’s not just like, how do we keep this all buttoned up? It’s like, how do we have a deep understanding that gives us guidance in this terrain of long-term intimacy, but then also the pursuit to be able to help others? And what a shared value to be able to see each other and have that recognition, and also have a shared experience. Not obviously exactly the same. But you’ve known pain, you’ve known heartbreak and challenge, and been confronted with challenging what you thought you knew, the paradigms.

Yeah. Even in the circles that we were running in, both of us have a faith background, a lot of the speakers on marriage and relationship come from a place, I think, my perception was, an expertise. “We have this great marriage. We have this great relationship. Here’s what it should look like.” And, like, we broke everything, and we now understand all the places your relationship can break. Let’s talk to you about those. It’s just different.

You’ve been through the fire, and it’s not about preserving something. And there is still, even with a lot of more of the humanity being in the bigger conversation, there’s still an inclination to have judgment. We’re human. And to think: Oh, well, X, Y, and Z, and really question. Chad, do you want to chime in here?

In my opinion, we had been to a couple of different marriage workshops and conferences. So I’m going to say this first, kudos to anybody who’s trying to help relationships. But at times, some of the advice I think was harmful, and maybe it wasn’t what we needed. Sometimes, I think, whatever organization is putting it out there, the intent might be good. But I think sometimes it’s not just behave better. If you could behave better if I could have a cognitive understanding of something and then just apply it, well, we would just all read a book on relationship and we’d all be better. Voila! It just didn’t work. So as we were seeking out how do we really make change happen, that’s where we landed with, again, Ryan and EFT and George Fowler, and Sue Johnson is clearly the founder of the model. But some of these people who we got to see work and do some things with couples, and I’m like: Man, that’s it! That attachment language, that frame for seeing people, and even how distress happens, really made sense. So it gave us a different hope. I think there’s a grief process, and having lived a lot of life without knowing that hope, and then also this just excitement too, to kind of go: Well, but now we do know. Now how can we share it with people in a way that’s effective, and really gets the best information in the hands of people who need it?

Absolutely! I have felt the pain of so many people, including myself. I have a story that’s somewhat similar, not exactly. That’s what really prompted me into a deeper dive of the relationship breakup and to understand. Because I felt pretty well-equipped. I had an undergrad in psych, a master’s in psych at that point, and felt like I’d been growing up with communication skills and I statements and all of these things, and still was hugely confronted. It did propel me into a deep dive into understanding relational dynamics and what’s happening. The pain that I felt myself and also feel other people are describing is like: “I am intelligent, and I’m a conscientious person, and this isn’t who I am. Yet, when I’m in these threatened moments, I’m seeing red, or I don’t even know myself. I’m behaving or doing things, and it’s like all the understanding and all the insight goes out the window.” And we know, with a lot more science and neuroscience, the nervous system, what’s happening, the attachment system. So I’m so, so grateful. 

I’ll also just share quickly, my dissertation was on couples and a meta-analysis. I did cite Susan Johnson and her research. But I also very much appreciated David Schnarch’s work. I referenced a lot of Harville Hendricks and Helen Hein, and the Gottman’s of course, and their research. It gives a lot of really good skills for what typically bodes poorly and what typically helps. And I will say, in my private practice, I was recognizing there’s something fueling this. It wasn’t until I came into the attachment, the real model of the EFT, emotionally focused around what’s happening in the room live, that’s spinning us and motivating us, inducing this. All of those other things I think are important. But if we don’t have a sense of the core underpinnings, then we often feel like we’re getting thrashed around in the sea in these waves, and it’s hard to orient. So I do also echo the sentiment around the model that really helps give support and guidance to what typically is most important. 

Yeah, I love what you’re saying. Just this idea that something kind of takes over. I love all the people you cited. Gottman is clearly there, everybody I think has heard of the Gottman’s probably. But Gottman does a great job of saying: Hey, these are markers for what goes wrong in some ways. And I’m grateful for the Gottman’s. But I really think when you start to lay attachment over what goes wrong, it gives you an understanding of how we as humans miss and find ourselves in those places where we’re spinning out or in a big fight, even though we know we don’t want to be. I practice every day today, and I’ll see lots of couples. I see it happen every single day almost, where I see people go to a place they don’t want to go. They want to be happy and love each other and have a good relationship, and they might even know the research, like Gottman’s research, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and all this stuff. They might know those things. But yet when it gets triggered between an intimate relationship, our bodies almost just take over. If we don’t find ways to express that, man, it’s really, really hard to get out of cycles if you don’t put words to them.

I think that’s what I found so appealing to attachment theory and EFT in general. George Fowler, I think as a clinician, and he’s an EFT trainer, does such a good job. I think this has been my understanding as he’s been training and teaching. He validates the good reasons why something comes up for me. So if we think about Gottman, and Chad mentioned the Four Horsemen, why do I have contempt towards Chad? Why am I stonewalling? What is my body informing me that tells me that I need to put a wall up, because there’s maybe not safety or something? Chad is a safe guy, why is my body triggering threat? So I love, even in my master’s program, learning about these other models, especially in a 12-step program myself, going it is very cognitive. CBT, cognitive behavioral, you do work on changing your thoughts and then changing your behaviors. But there was an underlying motivation that I was missing, or that I felt they were missing, that I turned on myself. Like, what am I missing that you all have? Because I think good thoughts, but I still am moved to get angry or critical or hold you.

It’s like, what’s happening on the inside? I’m recognizing my typical turn-to’s or my moves, and I can have insight that that’s not necessarily going to get me what I want. But I still am left with this whole inner experience that I’m like, what do I do? 

So EFT was the first model that came and said, there is a reason you’re getting hijacked by that, and it’s okay. EFT validated it and normalized it, and I just felt seen in it. I was like: Ah, this is so good, this is helping me, and other people need this.

I want to say quickly, just that you’re not left with good options. 

Free Photograph of Men Laughing Together Stock Photo

“If you get the information and you know what is happening cognitively, and you can’t stop it, the options you’re left with are bad options. It’s either I’m bad, or we’re bad together.”

But it all leads to the same place, which is like a dissolution of the relationship, like we’re going to dissolve this thing. If I don’t start to understand, if someone doesn’t start to understand the deeper processes that are happening, they all lead to: “Oh, well, it’s either I’m bad, you’re bad, or we’re just bad together.” That’s not what we wanted, we wanted to find a way. I want to help couples see that there is another piece to this that often gets left out, or discuss from a cognitive place, but really is an experiential kind of deep felt sense that shows up and then runs these cycles. Again, I could probably talk about all that for a long time. But it’s a big statement, and I think it’s a big part of removing some of the shame. It’s not just the validation that yeah, it’s okay. It’s like, no, you make sense in light of your experience and the struggles you’ve been in, and how it’s gone for you, and this is how you’ve actually tried to fight for relationships. 

So those are those are things that I’m like, it’s not just saying: Yeah, it’s alright to be pursuer or withdraw. You’ve probably used those terms before, those are tendencies. People have been talking about those terms for a long time. It’s okay to be those. But you have attachment reasons why you do that. There’s a real valid reason why we respond the way we do, and why our bodies bring up the energy that they do, so that we can stay alive. Really, in my mind, it’s to maintain relations. Everybody kind of gets that cycles are a bad time. But I think without our tendencies, we probably would not have relationship, and maybe wouldn’t even be here.

It’s the way we mitigate the threat that we feel. Only it’s counterproductive, so that’s the problem.

Well, and to your point, it’s been adaptive in one’s life, and can, to your point, Chad, be in certain circumstances. But likely, we’ll be partnering, and those protective strategies are injury or causing pain to the other, without the visibility of what we’re all talking about here. 

So if I can pause, I feel that we could just talk and enjoy what we’re describing. I also want to anchor this with some example, and I also want to make a couple comments before we turn towards that. The comment is that it feels as though we’re describing an opportunity to have an opening. Even if people aren’t familiar with the experience of what happens in EFT therapeutic space, but have felt that they’ve done some things intuitively that have given opening when there is conflict or there is disrupt in the bond. That they can feel: “Oh, there’s something I couldn’t see before that now we have found; we feel each other, we’re understanding, and we’re able to support each other, and feel some alliance and move forward.” I think that’s the thing we’re describing here is that it’s not about doing better. I can’t tell you how many people that I work with are so high-level, incredibly intelligent, conscientious, disciplined, have great practices in their life. It’s almost as though they think I should be able to overcome this. I’m like, as humans, you’re not supposed to be able to overcome your nervous system. That’s just an impossible ask to think that we can do that. Because it’s keeping us safe. 

So I’m wondering if we can talk about an example around what we’re describing that gives an opening. Because some people do feel really ill-equipped. Like, I can’t do that, I know that doesn’t work. Then, does this mean we’re not a good fit, or I’m bad? It’s like, there’s all these no-go zones or no-go places, and it’s hard to feel an opening. So when you talked a little bit earlier, Angela, about this idea that why I do what I do, when we can understand and have greater understanding of those deeper core feelings or core attachment, that can give us a little bit more support. But I’m curious if you both want to give example around what helps create this opening to find each other?

Yeah, you bet. I’ll jump in with a specific way that our cycle plays out, to try to put some structure around what we’re talking about. Then Chad will bring clean-up. Usually, I’m the feeler, I share feelings, and then he gives the expertise. But this is a concept that was basically Magda Arnold, who did the appraisal theory. It’s how we process emotion. As an individual, how I process emotion, and how Chad as an individual processes emotion, those are similar processes of how my body takes in the content, then what I feel in my body, the emotion that comes online, then the meaning I assign to it based on previous experience, and then what I’m drawn to do to respond to what I’ve taken in. So as an individual, when my appraisal theory comes online, and it pushes up against Chad’s process, then it creates this cycle. 

So I might come in with, I want to talk to Chad about something. This is how our cycle plays out. I’m talking to him, and I’m the energetic, talkative, lots of energy involved usually in my conversation. He’s the contemplative person, wants to really process what’s the content he’s taking in to deliver a solid answer. So I’ll see his face, and he’ll just do this thing where he blinks a little slowly, he might even lean back. In that moment, my body goes: “Uh-oh, he’s not fully engaged.” That blink lets me know that he’s in his head, and I might not have him. So I’m going to add a little more speed and energy. He sees my energy and goes, why is she getting excited, what’s happening? So my strategy is this escalated speed-up. I might even say, are you listening to me, in a tone. Now on my side of it, I’m fighting for him to be engaged, and that’s my strategy for us to be connected. He might be going: “This feels really intense, we might need some space here.” There we go, now there is a cycle! 

So when you ask about an opening for couples, for us, we talk a lot about slowing the process down. I mean, obviously, for Chad and I to be able to articulate, that whole process I described happens in one second. So to be able to slow it down and to recognize what’s happening. Then for me to be able to shift the conversation and say: “Hey, I noticed it looks like you just went into your head, and I just want to make sure we’re together on this. Are you engaged in this?” That’s way different than: “Are you even listening to me?” So being able to see what’s happening shifts the way we have the conversation.

Yeah, and I’ll jump in with that. I have the same experience or same appraisal. All humans, when we talk about appraisal theory, we are constantly on alert; we’re detecting threat. 

Free Man and Woman Standing Near Trees Stock Photo

“To humans, relationships are how we stay safe. We don’t have big claws, or we don’t have giant muscles. We have relationships. We have communities. So we’re designed to notice what’s happening outside us, especially in our most intimate or closest relationship.”

So when Angela comes with that energy, and she has an expression, she does a little thing with her lip, I recognize it. But my body immediately goes: “Uh-oh, this is bad.” So as we think about the way that we can interrupt that, I mean, this is really about an interruption so that we can have a conversation. Otherwise, the next thing that happens is we’re going to play out whatever our attachment cycle is going to bring forward. So she’ll get more energy, and I’ll shut down a little more. I’ll go cognitive, she’ll go emotional, and it’s going to become kind of a mess. 

Again, neither one of these things are really vulnerable. These are both protective strategies. So I’ll recognize there’s some threat to the relationship. I will have an experience internally, and then I will do some behavioral action or express it in some way externally. If we just let that run, we don’t change it. We have to be able to go: “Hey, wait a second, this thing is taking over.” It’s hard not to see my wife as the threat sometimes, because that’s what I see. That’s in front of me. It’s easy for me to focus on my partner or for her to focus on me. But what we have to do, in my opinion, is be able to go: “Oh, this is happening!” My body is sending a big message that’s telling me we’re in distress, or that this cycle is taking over, or whatever you want to call it, is taking over our relationship. That’s not what I want. 

Free stock photo of beautiful, camren, car Stock Photo

“If we can interrupt, that is the opening. I think it’s the first niche in the armor. It’s the way that we kind of break this thing open a little bit. We can stop blaming each other and start to examine the process of the cycle. Now we can start to learn a little bit, we can start to break that thing down.”

Thank you so much for just giving some example here, and I appreciate what you’re both describing. A real beginning, like formative or pillar here of a step is to slow down. Because what often is happening, two things are happening automatically. One is it sounds like there’s the appraisal system. We’re not consciously sitting down with a pen to paper and writing. This is happening without our control, automatically. So to recognize I’m having an experience, there’s something happening inside me that I’m either reacting or feeling threatened about or having a response to. Then the second thing that I am imagining you would both agree, that most people assume, and even if they know that that assumption is wrong, in practice, it still creeps up, that the other person or their partner has the same appraisal system.

Yeah, we think we understand, and we don’t.

They have the same. Most people might think you don’t have mine, and there’s something wrong with you, and you should have mine. So there’s a hope that you will think like me. I need you to think like me, and if you think like me, then it’ll work. By the way, that’s not good either. Because when I bring energy and excitement and a little bit of chaos, if I’m honest, I actually need his stoic stability, contemplation, and pace to slow that down. What EFT I think does a good job of is saying, let’s use what feel like competing strategies and actually acknowledge how complimentary they are. If we’re talking about attachment, the avoidant attachment who tends to have less speed and goes more within. Versus the anxious attachment, which is what mine is, tends to have more external energy that you can see. So Chad is even saying that’s why anxious attached, which is that pursuer, tends to get blamed more for the distress. Because you can see our process on the outside, where I would blame him for not being engaged, being withdrawn, not sharing his thoughts. By the way, this isn’t gender-specific either. There are people who identify as males that have anxious attachment, and females that have a more withdrawn or avoidant attachment. And what tends to happen in a cycle is, one takes on or has that anxious, and one has that avoidant, and that is how that cycle starts to play out. 

I want to say one more thing. I want to validate two things, because we made two points there. The first one is it’s outside your awareness, and it would be weird if it was inside your awareness. I say weird because naturally, we don’t question our bodily experiences; we don’t question ourselves, especially as individuals. The first time I would probably start to question myself and my own experiences is when I’m in a relationship, or when something is sending me a signal that I’m not getting that right. I need an external thing to let me know: “Hey, wait a minute, you can’t trust that.” So if you’re not trusting yourself and you’re listening to this, good for you on some level. But I’m like, also, I want to just tell you to be curious. It would be weird if you were already questioning. So be curious with yourself. It’s normal if you’re not aware of this or if it’s outside your awareness. That’s okay, that’s pretty normal for most people. 

The other thing I’ll say is, these cycles, they afflict everybody and every relationship. Pursue or withdraw, these are just labels. These are ideas to just kind of hold on to, but they’re not something you want to define your life by. So you do need to know that, you need to know your internal experience. But man, everybody has this, every relationship. We’ve been studying this since, really, I think the 30s. The beginning of relationship, research has noticed this. So everybody has noticed it, and we’re just talking about ways to intervene. So it’s not bad or weird or wherever you’re at. But it is something to pay attention to.

I want to go back to your point for just a second, which is that you said people who are highly intellectual or people who are even successful, let’s say in their external world or jobs, my anxious energy, I’m an administrator, I get stuff done. I’m great at projects. I’m good at pulling people together. Chad, in his avoidance strategy, he’s good at locking down or pushing down hard emotion that might interfere with a really hard task he has. We see these doctors and firefighters, and actually it benefits them to have these strategies everywhere else.

To have that containment and perspective, yes.

So in this most intimate relationship, when those strategies that we use everywhere else, and we think: “It worked for me there, why doesn’t it work for me here? Let me just coach you up, like I coach everyone else up.” So that is the big shift, where we start to go: “Well, this must be the problem, because it works everywhere else.” That’s unfortunate. 

Free A Couple Arguing while Holding Each Others Arms Stock Photo

“You see a lot of people who start to believe really rotten things about their relationship and about their partner, only because their strategy needs to possibly shift or they need to have a different awareness there.”

Absolutely. I mean, I talk a lot about my own examples. I’ll just share, as you’re describing, we’re all negotiating almost the language that we’re working with. We call it a working model in the attachment frame. As you were saying earlier, Chad, around our strength is in relationship, that’s how we survive. That’s how we really exist. One of the ways that we’re gathering information is through the facial expressions, the tone of voice, and the body language. So that source of information is incredibly important. So we are picking up tonnes of information, particularly about the people around us, and most prominently, the people that we’re in intimate or the closest connections and bonds. 

Just to share in alignment with what we’re talking about, it’s easy to perceive the other. I mean, I remember coming up against the curiosity, but being so confronted with both. Like, if I were to do what he’s doing, shutting down, my husband, if I were to not respond, it would mean that I didn’t care. Just all the like signals and alarms that are like, that’s what that means. To suspend that, to stay curious enough, to understand his world and what that looks like, to slow down, to your point. Fast forward, we’ve been together 18 years, and I still feel that pop up. I mean, we’ve done so much work. So it’s not nearly interfering or causing blocks, so to speak. However, I still notice it, and there’s still times where I’m like, I do not understand his response. I still don’t understand it, and I get curious. 

Just as an example, he’s been under the weather the last week. There was one point we were sitting at a table together eating, and we have a view, we’re staying at a rental right now. He was looking out at the view, but he was talking to me. Like, I was talking to him this way, but he was talking that way, away from me continuously. I’m like, what is he doing? So I asked, because I was like, is he upset? My mind was already like, does he have issue with me, what’s happening? He was like: “No, I don’t want to breathe on you. I don’t want to get you sick.” I was like, oh! I did not know that, I had to kind of inquire. So this is really tricky, and it continues to be something to be aware of. 

So we’re talking about slowing down, getting curious about the other person’s experience. That’s sometimes a risky thing, if we’re feeling the threat. We want to feel protective. Everything in us is wiring us to protect or even defend. So to stay curious and open, that’s not easy.

No. It speaks really to that first point we made, which is you’ve got to slow down. It’s impossible if you’re going fast. But even if you slow down, it’s still not easy to suspend your understanding or your belief or what you’ve always thought you knew about your partner, and then be curious. I mean, in the most intimate, most important relationship, it feels pretty risky, because it is pretty risky. It is, it’s scary. If you take the next step and say, I’m going to be vulnerable around what my internal experience is, I’m not going to show you just my protective strategy. I’m going to slow that all down, then I’m going to be curious about you, and I’m going to be vulnerable about me. Well, that’s a big ask.

Yes. Can you give an example to that, Chad? Because in my short example of that, being at the dinner table, I could have said: “Oh, I’m worried you’re upset, or I’m worried something’s wrong, because you’re looking away. Can you help me?”

I want to use that as an example of what he’s saying. Is that okay, can I use it? 

Yes, please.

Your words, they’re other-focused. You’re saying to him, you’re looking away, or I don’t know if you’re engaged. So that vulnerability would be something like, I maybe feel like I’m uninteresting, or maybe there’s a reason you’re not making eye contact with me because you’re mad at me, because I’ve done something wrong. I mean, that’s just a little useful example. But being able to have a conversation that shifts, I see what you’re doing, to the impact of what I see, this is how I’m feeling.

The reveal. There’s a reveal around here’s what you maybe don’t see, or here’s where I’m going with this, and my experience on the inside. 

But I want to commend even your curiosity. Because your question to him, your assumption is: he’s uninterested, or he’s not making eye contact with you, or he’s disengaged. You have the wherewithal to say: “Hey, can I be curious? Why are you looking out the window, or why aren’t you looking at me?” Then you hear his reason is out of care for you, because he doesn’t want to get you sick, which is probably the furthest thing from what you were thinking it meant.

I will add, there’s nuances. So I didn’t feel charged, so he didn’t see any of that. So I could get away. But I could ask him the question without there being a tripwire. But I have learned enough that if I’m a little stirred, and I am more of the anxious tendency, that if I don’t find my place and do my best to reveal, he’s likely going to interpret that as he’s doing something wrong. Because again, if he were to go in hot, or if he would go in with elevated voice, he would be taking issue with someone. Where for me, I might be just like, similar to you, excited and amplified, all these things. So I’m very aware that it does not go well for me to pursue him, I learned that so early on, and it’s a continual practice. It’s not something that I’m like: “Never have to do that again, we arrived at the secure functioning place, and I’m good.”

We teach this and talk about this stuff all the time, and we still get in cycles all the time. I mean, it just happens. It’s a very normal, natural thing.

I want to give another example of how that might work, and I’ll use your example. But if we’re sitting somewhere, you’re sitting there and you see your husband looking away, and it looks like he’s talking away from you, not making eye contact, your body is sending a signal. I think in the English language, in our culture, it’s not common for us to talk about our bodies and how we’re doing. We generally work from cognition or logic, or other’s focus. So we’re problem solvers, which is great. None of that’s bad, inherently. But I would encourage like: “Hey, my body is sending a signal that’s distressing. I’m getting a message that makes me feel, even if you want to say anxious, and a little bit nervous about this. I don’t know what this is inside me. But I’ve got a bad thing going on inside me.” To say something like that, which is extremely going to be an odd conversation. I know I’m being direct here. But if I let that information out, and then he’s able to go: “Oh my goodness, what? No, I’m here with you. What’s going on?” Now you might get a response that you’re asking for, or really, that your body is asking for. But I just think being in tune with our bodies, with our being, with our existence, is not something we spend a lot of time on in our culture. 

Free Close Up Photo of Couple Hugging Each Other Stock Photo

“I think it’s about developing a culture inside of your relationship that says, I’m allowed to talk about the state of my being with you, and hope or expect that maybe you could respond to that. Because that changes what we feel and what we do.”

Yes, it’s incredibly disarming, and it’s actually offering a little bit more revealing accurate information, that is deeper than perhaps what is visible on the outside. So it is giving information, and to your point, often can feel socially awkward. It’s not a sexy pretty thing to say.

How do we do that? I mean, even in those other settings we’re talking about, like firefighters, they’re not going to be like: “Hey, that building is scary and hot, and I’m hesitant to go in.” No, you’re going to be like, lock it down! Because that’s not the right moment. 

And we’re using firefighters, but when else? Again, we have a little girl, and Angela ends up in a role where she manages our house a lot of the time. You’re not going to be like: “Hey, I’m feeling a little bit this or that.” You’re not going to do that with a kid either, or anything else you manage. I mean, she does lots of things. She generally says: “Hey, I see a problem. Let’s go fix that. This is a thing I see.” So that strategy of going: “Ooh, I’m anxious and overwhelmed right now” doesn’t work for her. She has a different strategy that helps her be successful in life. Again, it’s back to my point. It’s weird in some ways. I say weird, it would be odd to examine this. The only place you would examine this is with somebody you’re intimate with. Because we’re on the same team, and we are kind of this unit together. So if I don’t have information about part of the unit, if I don’t know where Angela’s heart is or where her experience is, her lived, felt since, then I don’t really know Angela. I’m going to make some meaning of whatever her behavior is, but I’m probably going to miss her. 

We can operate in other relationships with a lot of misinformation or assumptions or misunderstandings. But in this most intimate relationship, this is where we want to clear and have not a lot of things running interference, to have this openness.

I want to say, what we’re talking about, which is to try to catch basically this cycle happening mid-cycle, is a really advanced move. So just for a second, I want to say that the probability is that most couples, especially if they’re new to this awareness, or new to tuning in, are going to miss it. It’s going to feel like a fight. The withdrawer or the avoidant attachment is probably going to go away or end it. Or the pursuer, which is the anxious attachment, is going to come off angry and critical, and it’s not going to go well, let’s say. The research will say, it’s not that couples get in a fight that’s a reason they end or get divorced. The research will say, it’s because they can’t repair. So if you can repair it, it actually is okay. It goes back to feeling securely attached. So we talk a lot in the workshops we do and in the areas that we have influenced about what that repair looks like. So in that setting, when I say to Chad, you’re not paying attention to me, and he’s like, yes, I am. And we get into a fight, and he goes away. One of us has to come back, and in that moment, not reiterate what they got wrong. We’re not going to cue the fight back up. What we’re going to do is, hopefully, have taken some time paying attention to our side of it, and then come back with that more vulnerable stance.

Awareness around what happened for us, not the other.

So I could come back and say: “Hey, when I noticed you blinking, it triggered me and I felt like you weren’t paying attention, and that’s why I yelled at you or made it worse. I’m really sorry. What I was trying to say was that I want you in the conversation, and here’s the content I wanted to share.” Or we do something that, I don’t want to say gives the benefit of the doubt, but makes an effort to say: “You’re not the enemy, we just got hijacked by this thing that we get hijacked by. Can we acknowledge that, set that aside, and now connect the way we both long to connect in the way I really wanted to connect? I just missed it because we got hijacked by our cycle or that fight.”

Yes. Thank you, Angela, I’m so glad you said that! Because yes, this is an advanced move, and it typically takes a lot of practice and a lot of awareness. In the learning curve of this, often we’ll see it after it’s happened. So sometimes, that’s where we start, is we recognize in hindsight. Or I can connect with, here’s what my appraisal system was saying and I wasn’t even aware of that, can I come and bring that vulnerable stance? So it’s almost a redo of what we would have wanted to do had we been able to slow it down and have more awareness in the moment and have that skill built. But really, we’re just starting to build the skill. Or it was too intense, and even myself, I lost it. Maybe I was tired and hungry and too triggered, or whatever was happening, and I couldn’t stay in that place of awareness and vulnerability. So I come back, and that’s where the research like the Gottman’s will say the repair is so critical for success.

I had somebody one time say, can you help me never get triggered? It’s like, I cannot help you never get triggered. I don’t think it’d be safe, first of all, because our attachment system is a survival system that’s trying to keep you alive with threat detection. I said, but what I can do is help you have a different conversation around what’s happening for you when you get triggered. It’s okay to be like, something triggered me; my body told me a message. We don’t want to turn off your body or turn off your messages. But we do want to be able to go, I’m having an experience, and then have a conversation about what the experience is telling me about me, what the information is that’s being brought forward. So I do want to help people with a different conversation. But I’m not getting rid of triggers, and probably not getting rid of some of the fight. 

Free Two Women Lying In Bed Stock Photo

“I mean, fight is good for humans in some ways, to bond and also strengthen. So we don’t want to fight with no good outcome, we need to be able to grow through it. But distress or conflict isn’t the problem. It’s how do we navigate that and really get clear around each other’s experiences in it.”

My father is a football coach, and so I use this metaphor a lot. It’s basically a sports metaphor, where, after the game, whether you win or lose, you review the game tape, you review it on video, and you pay attention to what you did as the player. So basically, when that fight happens, and you’ve missed it, and you have to come back to do the repair, you’re not the coach, you’re just the player, and you’re not going to tell your partner what they did. You’re there to say, here’s my moves in the game. I overthrew that, or I missed that catch, or I missed that block. This is self-reflection that I’m bringing, and you hope, if you have done enough repairs, that your body starts to trust the repair process. For Chad and I, we worked on this, and so now we have this, where I bring my side back to do the repair. Then he goes: Okay, yeah, this is where I have to bring my side. Then you have a different conversation that’s not blaming or other-focused. But I want to be honest, again, when you’re first doing this, especially if your repairs haven’t gone well or if your repairs just turn into another way to double down on how the fight happened in the first place.

Or there’s a lot of injury that has not been repaired that’s accumulated.

Then that can go wrong. So that’s where we would encourage people, if you do have a lot of injuries, or if you do have a lot of unresolved pain or woundedness, or your relationship has gotten to the point where you have what we might call an attachment injury or just a past wound that isn’t resolved. That’s when we would encourage, get a therapist, get a third-party, get someone else in there to just help you navigate. That’s I think what EFT does so beautifully. Therapists come in, help you navigate some of those places where it didn’t go well, give you a new understanding of your partner and your experience in that process, help you do a repair so your body starts to trust that you can. You get enough reps in that new experience, and then your bodies don’t throw threat up every time he blinks, or every time I come in with energy. Then your body start to go: Okay, I do have some security in this, and this is going to go well, and we can repair if it doesn’t go well. It starts to feel better.

Yeah, what you’re saying, golly, I could talk for hours probably!

I know we are winding down because of our time, I appreciate that. Please tell me. 

But I do want to just say that it’s sad to me, because I think some people think they can’t have relationship because of trauma or woundedness or whatever that’s inside or outside the relationship, from family of origin. I want to say that it’s possible to make change happen. But if you don’t ever have safety, and you don’t ever have somebody who understands the process that you’re in, and understands trauma and is informed about trauma, and understands relationship and is informed about relationship, which sometimes it’s hard to find the right person. But it is sad to me that I see people struggling and hurting, and they just say: “Well, I’m just too far gone, too much, too whatever the thing is.” I just want to say, there is hope.

Yeah, thank you for sharing just how much this means. I also echo just how the world for some has not been a safe place. All of the learning in life has really presented: “This is not a good move. This isn’t safe, I will be hurt or abused or injured or whatever the circumstances are.” Just that this isn’t an easy territory to begin to try something new that would potentially be a place where one would be seen, respected, honored, and be able to be in relationship in a new way. Let’s say one is 30 years old, or even 40 or 50, and never had that experience, that is horrifying.

I think it’s one of the reasons. Obviously, we’re passionate about this. Obviously, it moves our hearts, and that’s why we get in and fight for couples in these scenarios. But one of the things we upped our game in is doing things like marriage workshops, and conferences, and even the podcast that we put together for couples. Because so many times, by the time a couple gets to therapy, they’re in it for a long time, and it’s really hard. Often, just the work and realm in which Chad and I work, especially I now lead a 12-step program, and I get a lot of people through there, and I get couples who come in who have all what EFT would call contra-indicators. So if there’s addiction, if there’s an affair, if there’s been abuse, these are the hardest of hard scenarios that most maybe therapists would be like, that’s too hard! We get those couples. So we see just people who have been wrung out by the cycle and by broken relationships. So both of us kind of went, how can we not only help these groups that’s coming in in this pain, but can we go upstream before they’re falling in the river, and help them to prevent them from it.

Put a guardrail, yeah.

I mean, we even wrote our own engaged couples content for couples who are dating, because we want to lay a foundation for a secure relationship, before you ever long-term commit. I mean, obviously, we just care so deeply to try to prevent somebody from getting into a space where it’s so hard. Because we’ve been there, and it sucks. It’s horrible.

Yeah. Well, I would love for you both to tell listeners how they can get in touch with you, your workshops or podcasts, and anything you want to share.

So the best place that you can find us, we have a few, is going to our YouTube page, The Real Imhoffs. On that, you not only can find the video version of our podcast. Our podcast is called The Connecting Couples Podcast; 20 minutes designed to help couples have different conversations. We talk about cycles, we talk about repairs, we talk about injuries, we talk about the fights we get into. We use our own stuff. So that’s a place you can find us. But also, you can go to our website, TheRealImhoffs.com, and that is where we’ll have updated information about workshops we do. We don’t only do them locally where we are in Arkansas, we travel. We’ve been in quite a few states in the last few years, where we go, we get invited to, and it’s really fun for us. So those are a few places you can find us. Also, if you’re a clinician and you just happen to be listening and want to learn more about EFT, Chad is also known as The EFT Guy, you can follow him on Facebook. Or you can check out SuccessInvulnerability.com, it is a course platform where we help therapists learn. So our hands are in a lot of stuff, but that’s all the places.

I think just reach out to us. I mean, send us an email. You can find us online, we’re not hard to find. We’ll be glad to connect with you and have a conversation with you, whether that’s through YouTube or just the direct email. If you try to look us up, you’ll find us. So yeah, we’d love to connect. 

Excellent. I will make sure to have all of those links on today’s show notes. Thank you both so much for your work in the world, your passion, your drive, and your purpose.

Thank you. 

Thank you for having us. It’s been a pleasure. 

In closing, I wanted to summarize, to anchor some of what we’ve talked about here today, as we covered a lot of ground. As we described in today’s episode, some of this is very advanced to be aware of as it’s happening. As a reminder, I know this was mentioned in the episode, but these are all practices; we don’t ever arrive. It’s a place of continually recognizing, building awareness, and being in the practice. 

In an attempt to make more room, it can be helpful to slow down. Slow down the speech, slow down the pace of going back and forth, perhaps taking pause, and then also doing one’s best to build awareness. What’s happening? What am I feeling inside? What am I sensing in my body? What’s happening in my nervous system? What am I aware of with my partner? Cues, facial expressions, nonverbals, language. What is it that I am perhaps responding to or even reacting to? So just building that awareness. 

If we have the ability, perhaps do one of two things, which is the reveal or the vulnerability of expressing what’s on the inside, that perhaps is not visible to your significant other. So the vulnerability, or even the curiosity of being curious about the other, inviting more information. Then that can offer more reveal around where your partner is. So it might even clear up misunderstandings, it also might correct misperceptions, and it can help give greater understanding if possible. 

This gives also an understanding, we talked about the appraisal system, of what our tendencies are, what lenses we typically see through, and protective strategies. There’s a lot that goes into this. So again, you can reference the show notes that have links mentioned, the transcript, and key takeaways for you to engage with further. Then also, the capacity to build in with some of these moves, the ability to have a different conversation. We can’t control whether or not we react or if our partner is reacting, but we can move through it differently; we can have a different conversation. That is what creates an opening. Again, slowing down, building awareness, using vulnerability, curiosity, referencing the appraisal system, and if possible, having a different conversation. 

Signing Off

If you have a topic you would like me to discuss, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here. 

Thank you so much for your interest in improving your relationship. 

Also, I would so appreciate your honest rating and review. Please leave a review by clicking here

Thank you!  

*With Amazon Affiliate Links, I may earn a few cents from Amazon, if you purchase the book from this link.

Please leave a Comment

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.

SEND ME THE FREE GUIDE

Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching