Turning “Stuck Moments” in to Momentum

Turning ‘Stuck’ in To Momentum

We all have these moments when it feels like the couple is  making progress and suddenly the session grinds to halt or a partner gets reactive.  You know the feeling. Maybe you facilitate some deepening of emotion, a withdrawer accesses their lonely place, and you see tears for the first time in their eyes.  “Could you turn to your partner,” and you prompt an enactment. At first the pursuer seems to respond, they smile, they tear up a bit, and suddenly, “Well, I don’t believe this,” or “If you are so lonely how come you get on the computer when you get home.”  And, our heart sinks.  We get lost in the stuck place or their reactivity.

These are key moments for building momentum in Stage One work.  Here we provide dual empathy.  We turn to the withdrawer to acknowledge the risk they took.  And then to the pursuer, we recognize the confusion, the fear.  If I can go in to that space with them, “It must be so confusing to see him tear up and say he is lonely for you, when on the outside you see him always distant and aloof?,” they are not alone with it.  Not alone with it, the experience can expand and be explored.  This is the essence of Stage One work, expanding and exploring ever deepening emotional experience.  

Stuck places become opportunities.  When we can welcome them as moments of emotional reactivity, we can lean in to them.  We can look for the attachment significance and the protective intent.  Every moment has the potential to be an EFT moment.  Plus, when we lean in to our own dysregulated, stirred up self in the room, we are liberated.  I find some anxiety in me and might say, “It feels tense today in the room, as if the two of you are walking on eggshells, is that right?”  

When Stuck Think of the E.F.T. Steps:

1)  Attunement:  Is this stuck moment a reflection of an alliance issue or opportunity to build alliance?  How can I lean in to what is happening and explore with one or both partners?

2)  Cycle:  How might we put what is happening before us in session in to the cycle?  Can I make this  collaborative process with the couple?  What is the positive intent in the behavior of each partner right now (to connect and/or protect?).

3)  Emotion:  What is the strongest emotion in the room right now?  If anger or numbness, how might I validate that emotion and look for openings in to more vulnerable, primary emotion?

4)  Attachment Lens:  How might the stuck moment reflect attachment distress?  Have I been using attachment language in the session?  What is the attachment significance of this “stuckness.”


Stuck becomes “what is,” and what is becomes something to explore through our “emotional-attachment-cycle” lens.  

The Mantra of the EFT Therapist

Embracing stuck places, if we adapted the Prayer of St. Francis, to the Mantra of an EFT Therapist, it go something like this:

“Seek not to take away defenses, as to hand them to people with a gentle, ‘that makes sense’,

Seek not to change the negative cycle, as to explore it together so they are no longer alone in the dance, 

Seek not to teach communication skills, as to access the most powerful communication tool known, vulnerable emotion,

Seek not to force change, as to create the safe, secure base from which the couple may reach out and bond, and 

Seek not to avoid stuck moments, but to lean in to them as opportunities to explore and together.” 

Jim Thomas, LMFT, Center Director, EFT Trainer, Copyright, 2014, All Rights Reserved, Use by Permission Only