No matter who you are, maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family can be difficult. We tend to fall into reactive and negative interaction patterns, which often lead to disconnect.
Positive, strong, and healthy relationships take work to maintain. Being analytical about your own and others’ emotions is a proven way to help get the most out of a relationship. Paying attention to, processing, and communicating emotions is key. These skills are certainly not easy to develop, but Emotion Focused Therapy can help one to learn these ever-important skills.
Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) encourages individuals to become attuned to their emotions and those of others, and use emotional information to guide behavior and interactions in the context of important relationships. EFT can be useful in repairing relationships and negative patterns that may exist. It aims to help both people regulate emotions and communicate in an effective way.
Here are five steps to help reconnect disconnected relationships.
1. Identify the triggering effect of the other person’s behavior.
Is a friend consistently late to plans? Does your sister talk over you at family gatherings? Every relationship is unique, but when problems arise and reparation is necessary, it’s likely that some kind of negative interaction pattern has set in. Brainstorm and analyze what the other person is doing that is causing a reaction from you.
2. Notice your initial reaction to this person’s behavior.
When your sister talks over you, are you tense? Are you angry? Or maybe you feel sad to be left out of the conversation? With your friend who is always late; maybe you’re nervous they’re canceling? Or anxious they aren’t coming? Delve into your emotions and analyze them to use as information to guide your behavior. Putting a label on your emotions can have a huge impact on how you learn to manage them. Pay attention to how your body feels during these interactions.
3. Find the deeper emotion.
Are you hurt that your sister doesn’t care about what you have to say? Are you disappointed that you don’t have a voice in your own family? Do you feel that your friend may not be as invested in your friendship as you? Does that make you feel lonely?
Once you have correctly identified the emotion you feel in the moment when a close one did something triggering, try and attach it to a deeper emotion, less dependent on the specific context of being talked over or stood up.
4. Understand your own emotional needs.
In analyzing a relationship or trigger, you also need to understand your own basic emotional needs. Emotional needs are highly individualized. One person may feel it’s of the utmost importance to feel appreciated, while another may place more value on feeling needed or depended on. Some people may need to feel heard, feel validated, feel included, or feel nurtured. Understanding your unique constellation of emotional needs is imperative to remedying emotional disconnect with close friends and family.
Be deliberate about communicating how you feel to the person who is evoking an emotional reaction from you. At the same time, consider this person’s unique emotional needs and reactions.
Interpersonal Therapy emphasizes a technique called “Give to Get,” which is applicable here. Give to Get details strategies for communicating in a non-attacking, inquisitive, comfortable, and validating way. Similarly, the DEAR MAN approach from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) may assist you in effectively communicating, and more specifically, getting what you desire from another person emotionally.
It may seem like simple stuff, but understanding emotions, and using them as information to guide behavior is key in healthy relationships. When we’re not deliberate in identifying them within ourselves, communicating them, and using them as guidance, emotions tend to get lost in translation, misinterpreted, and confused. By using the steps above we can help train ourselves to be more emotionally intelligent. We can become aware of our own emotions and emotional needs, what triggers them, and how to communicate them effectively to another person.
Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ridgewood and Hoboken, NJ. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.