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5 Things You Can Do Today To Improve Communication With Your Partner

One of the things I love about Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is that the steps of the model are always the same. No matter where you go in the world, an EFT therapist will practice EFT following the same basic steps of the model.

For me, this builds confidence in the model. The consistency of the steps can be empirically studied and validated as an effective treatment. There is easily accessible literature and research to confirm this. For my clients, this model builds predictability, consistency, and concrete communication skills that can be incorporated into everyday interactions with their lovers, partners, family and friends.

There are five main steps in the EFT model that are foundational for a person to learn. The steps are intended to deepen the self into present moment experience and away from reactivity to the partner. The goal is to distill a message from one to the other that shares from the heart, not from fear. While these steps are helpful in conflict, they can be used anytime, anywhere, with any conversation. They can be angry, joyful, concerned, or lighthearted. Talking through conflict is not the primary way we build bonds. We do that through positive experiences and connecting with one another.

While these beginning steps will help you to explore your inner voice, your underlying thoughts, motivations and perceptions, please be aware that the model itself is not complete with these five steps. Having an EFT therapist can help you as you learn to structure your experience through the EFT lens. If finding an EFT therapist is difficult, cost prohibitive, or just not in the books right now, you can learn more by reading the following books and websites.

* Emotionally Focused Therapy for Dummies

* Hold Me Tight Online (

The 5 Steps You Can Do Today To Improve Communication With Your Partner

Step 1: Notice what happened before your reactivity.

Step 2: Body Scan, what is your physical body experiencing in this moment?

Step 3: What are you saying to yourself about you?

Step 4: What are you saying to yourself about your partner?

Step 5: What is the feeling you are experiencing right now?

As you learn to add these 5 steps into your way of thinking when communicating with your partner, you will find that your communication is more effective, precise and productive.

Now, lets dig a little deeper into the details of each step.

Step 1: Notice what happened before your reactivity.

Every interpersonal response starts with a catalyst that is seen, heard, felt, sensed, or assumed by the receiver. As a matter of fact, we humans have a minimal consciously awareness that we are often assessing facial, vocal, and tonal cues from the people around us. So, notice, what happened right before your reactivity? Did your partner make an audible sigh? Did they say something pointed or maybe said nothing at all? Did they roll their eyes, slam a door, hang up the phone, tell you something negative about yourself? If you can land on just one cue that you are reacting to, that will help you to move through the next steps.

Step 2: Body scan, what is your physical body experiencing in this moment?

Your body is the first response when it comes to threats. Emotional conflict is registered in the body as a threat. Therefore, your body’s limbic system will light up! The limbic system is influenced by the amygdala (the small but very important reptilian part of your brain). The amygdala keeps you safe. Or at least that’s what it thinks it is doing. Unfortunately, in adult relationships, the amygdala can create further reactivity between people. That reactivity will be first detected in your physical body. A body scan helps you to identify if and how your amygdala is signaling for your limbic system to react. The limbic system has two main responses in relationship with other. The first is the flight response. This is the run away and run away now! response. Essentially it tries to first get you to safety, and then deal with the threat. The second is the fight response. This is when you hunker down and deal with the threat now and right now! The second response directs you to establish safety by resolving the threat head on.

There are other responses but these are the main ones to focus on for the purposes of establishing a foundational knowledge using these steps. When your body is in a stress limbic response you will notice your breathing is shallow, your heart races, your head hurts, your stomach aches, your feet tap, your hand twitches, your eyes feel heavy with sleep.

It might take a while for you to identify your body response but it’s important you do. Your body will respond to an emotional threat faster than your brain. Kind of like the speed of light vs the speed of sound. Your body reacts quickly with the speed of light (not literally, unless you’re a super hero) and your mind reacts secondarily with the speed of sound. The more aware you are of your body the more you will understand when your mind says it is in a limbic stress response of fight or flight.

Step 3: What are you saying to yourself about you?

Here we turn our focus into our thoughts and perceptions. What your thoughts tell you tend to be what you start to believe. Regardless of their actual validity in the real world. This step ask you to discern what your perceptions about the situation are telling you about you. Some common self perceptions that come up during conflict that I’ve heard are: “I always mess up,”, “What’s wrong with me?”, “I’m an idiot,”, “I’m the bad one,”, “I failed again,”…these thoughts do not reflect your emotional state. They are not feelings. They are deeper beliefs that you hold about yourself. It’s important to understand these thoughts as they will influence how you react and respond to your partner.

Step 4: What are you saying to yourself about your partner?

Again, we turn our focus into out thoughts and perceptions. This time, we are looking at what you tell yourself about your partner. Our brains are designed to make sense of things, find patterns, and categorize information. Your brain will attempt to make sense out of your partners actions, find patterns in their behaviors, and categorize that information into subcategories that fit with your narrative. It’s important that you know how you are perceiving your partner because you will relate to your partner accordingly…and they will know it. Some common partner perceptions I’ve heard are, “They do this all the time,”, “They don’t listen,”, “They shut me down”, “They are an asshole”. These are not feelings. They are also deeper beliefs that you hold about your partner and they will influence how you respond to your partner.

Step 5: What is the feeling you are experiencing right now?

This last step should draw you into the present moment experience. What feelings are present right here and right now for you? Some feeling words are: hopeless, frustrated, angry, stuck, numb. These words are important to identify because they hold the key to effectively communicating to your partner. They are not past experiences (“you always,

you never”) and they are not future experiences (“you should, you need to”) they are right here and right now. They are “I am”. I am frustrated. I am angry. I am hopeless. Now your partner can meet you where you are at. When you approach someone with your authentic feelings, you invite that person to understand you. An invitation is much more easily accepted by your partner than a demand, a complaint, or a threat. An invitation allows for them to choose to understand your experience or not. Having the choice is what will lower their defenses.

Using these 5 skills you might end up saying something like, “I am feeling hopeless right now. I don’t know how to get out of this loop. I end up thinking bad about myself, about you and about the relationship. Can we talk more about it?”

Alternatively, you might not be ready to talk to your partner about what came up for you in these 5 steps. That’s okay. Give yourself some time to understand your own experience. Maybe you are trying to tell yourself something.

* Angela Jensen-Ramirez is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists Certified Sex Therapist who has been studying and practicing Emotionally Focused Therapy with couples since 2017. For more information, email

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