Who Started It?!
I find myself in sessions thinking a lot through the lens of the infinity loop or “the cycle.”
The infinity loop is what such a helpful visual aid in Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy, and without understanding what is going on, it is impossible to get to what is known as Stage Two. The infinity loop maps out the cycle in a way that is so clear to both me and my clients. The more I use it, the more it resonates for me. It may also be activated within the session, thankfully though worked with more proactively if a therapist is present.
I have found that there are only a few things that get us trapped in this endless loop, and one that stands out most is the desire to figure out who actually started the couple down the path that has led us here. It might not get labeled as explicitly as “blame,” however there is a “find the bad guy” that takes place. Where does the loop begin? Because if we can figure this out, well then we can work with the problem head on.
Except, the simultaneously beautiful and confounding thing about the infinity loop is that there is no beginning, and – if not worked through – no end. It goes around and around, until you are blue in the face. There is a direction to it (as you can see on the diagram, following the arrows), and so we can see how one action might lead to a reaction, and subsequent action, etc., but that it has the capability of “feeding itself,” as each partner’s reaction in the cycle is responded to in a way that can have the ability to simply reinforce the cycle.
There may be an actual start to a specific, discreet fight that a couple gets itself into. However, I could also argue that that fight would never have happened if a previous cycle, or underlying cycle, did not exist.
So what should we do?
So in the blame game that we are trying to play, there are absolutely no winners. Because, there is no one to blame. However, blaming the dynamic is a great place to start. Being able to say “look, we get into this one tricky dance that neither of us knows how to navigate our way out of, where we are triggering eachother with our moves.” It is the cycle that is the enemy in the relationship, not one partner or the other. As we can look below the dotted line (where in previous posts I’ve recommended we try to be in order to establish connection), we can see the categories “unmet attachment needs” and “primary feelings.” I like the think of primary feelings as those feelings which are “core” to us. In order for them to be that deep, they have to have been there for quite a long time, often much longer than the relationship we are in now. Our attachment needs are needs because they are sensitive to us, because we either didn’t get them as children, or we got too much of them as children and therefore are feeling deprived. Either way, they came about, again, a long before this relationship did.
What is below the line can be the fuel to the cycle’s engine, and what is above the line is simply the oily grease that keeps the engine running. We keep pouring oil and those deeper emotions will be covered, and certainly will be slick enough so that the cycle can continue in perpetuity.