Helping Couples Feel Love: Why I’m an EFT Therapist

Most agree that romantic love has a powerful way of defining our lives for better or worse. When things are going well with our partner, the rest of life often feels manageable because of the strength of that bond. But when our couple relationship is going south, the emotional toll from that lack of connection not only feels terrible, it has a way of falling like dominoes into other life domains. I have a special passion for helping individuals and couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships. This passion led me to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, and from there has led me to become an Emotionally Focused Therapist. With all the different types of therapies out there to help people through relationship difficulties, how did I arrive at Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)? Because I profoundly believe in the healing power of this treatment! Here are a few reasons why:

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It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I don’t understand it; some people, as far as their senses are concerned, just feel like home. ~Nick Hornby

1. People aren’t ill or broken, they’re stuck in painful patterns

Since the birth of psychotherapy, the lens with which we’ve viewed people has been intrapsychic and at times even pathologizing. Freud saw people’s motivations in terms of internal drives rather than interpersonal needs, and that concept has stuck over the course of generations. I’m not saying that mental illness isn’t very real – it is. But many aspects of behavior, especially in terms of relational behavior, are better understood from an attachment frame. We are social creatures with an innate need to form secure and lasting bonds. This need is so innate we fail to thrive without it, and many experiments in the research literature highlight the significance of our need for attachment as being as important as food or water. This begins with parent and child and continues with other important figures and our potential romantic partnering with another person. Thus, much of what happens with couples that isn’t working is based on attachment fears being activated and protests against emotional disconnection. If you look way beneath all the fighting, demanding, emotionality, and withdrawing, you find that these actions are not pathological or unfixable, they are our way of saying, Do you really see me? Are you really there for me? We aren’t broken for wanting this connection. We are hurting and afraid because we don’t have it or can’t trust it.

2. Couples communication needs authenticity, not rules

So much of traditional couples therapy and the general public’s concept of couples therapy is about communication skills. I’m all for good communication! But simply learning to speak and listen and compromise isn’t enough. Not only do many of these communication methods leave couples feeling stilted or awkward when they’re trying to discuss something as profound as matters of the heart, they also fly right out the window in more heated moments when those discussions have shifted into the realms of sex, money, family, or who forgot to start the dishwasher (warning: strong language, scene from comedy clip). In EFT, couples aren’t taught specific skills for communication. Instead they are guided to experience real vulnerability and attunement with each other in ways that feel authentic and meaningful. This type of bottom-up learning not only feels more relevant, it is profoundly lasting.

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What I want most, is to know what you hear in the silence between us. ~William C. Hannan

3. It works!

Dr. Sue Johnson began developing EFT in the 1980s because she realized something was missing in our understanding of couple’s pain, conflict, and healing. This was during a time when attachment was being more fully recognized as a relevant part of the human experience thanks to the pioneering work of John Bowlby. But most were still focused on the parent-child attachment and not thinking much about how attachment needs play out in adult relationships. Over 2 decades later, Dr. Johnson’s treatment approach has been proven to work by meeting the gold standard in research. Studies have shown time and again that it’s not only the attachment frame that’s important, but EFT’s way of accessing that frame that creates truly lasting change.

4. Secure attachments are transforming

When couples create secure attachments with each other, it does more than lead to deepening love and commitment. It can change each partner’s entire experience of themselves, each other, and the world. I know this because I’ve seen it in others and I’ve experienced it personally. Since being in a securely attached relationship, I’ve felt my entire self and life shift toward the more steady and the more alive – the “roots and wings” of Earth Meets Sky. When you have a partner as a secure base, you are able to go inside yourself and gently embrace all the beautiful and scary parts of who you are as well as approach the world with far greater curiosity and confidence. Old wounds diminish and any future feels possible because you know in your deepest heart that your partner will be by your side.

In short, I’m an EFT therapist because I hope to help others create and deepen this kind of transformational love. We all need it, and we all deserve it.

If your relationship is hurting from conflict, distance, or even deeper relational traumas such as infidelity, consider turning to the guidance of an EFT therapist. EFT therapists have a unique way of helping you heal in individual therapy as well. If you live in the Atlanta area, please feel free to contact me to see how I may be of assistance in helping you and/or your partner create and deepen the powerful bonds of love.

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Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in the world. ~Emery Allen

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

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The Promise of a Lifetime

You may have noticed that my online presence has changed a bit in the past few weeks. I am now Amanda Carver! I am married and excited to announce that, yes, when you see Amanda Carver, LMFT online, it’s me!

Though a wedding or commitment ceremony is but a moment, a marriage or partnership holds the promise of a lifetime. It requires much in terms of vulnerability, tenderness, passion, humor, and forgiveness. A ceremony is a way to honor the path behind that led to this moment of profound commitment, and the path ahead undoubtedly full of both vibrant and difficult times – but better enjoyed and weathered because it’s together. In this way, my husband and I decided that having a marriage ceremony that we wrote together and witnessed by our closest family was deeply important to us.

One of our vows included: I promise to keep your trust. And to share my honest self with you, even when it may be easier to pretend or hide. I promise to make it safe to show me your true self, and to not try to change you, because the whole spectrum of who you are is who I’ve fallen in love with.

At many times in a relationship, a couple can come to this important point of making or renewing vows. In considering what means the most to you about commitments of love and marriage, what vows would you like to make to your current or future partner? Please share!

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All written content owned by Amanda Carver. Photo credit: Mike Moon Studio and Morgan Corbett Photography.

Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict

IMG_1567In working with couples and in navigating my own love life with all its heart swells and perils, I’ve found that conflicts between romantic partners are some of the most painful encounters we experience as adults. Hardly anything can derail our days or our lives more than being out of synch and in discord with our significant other.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) wisely declares, “Conflict in romantic relationships is 90% protest at emotional disconnection.” Over the past 25 years, she’s pioneered EFT as an empirically backed method of assisting couples based on adult attachment theory – the theory that the attachment needs we are all born with do not go away just because we grow old enough to “take care of ourselves.” Rather, we continue to need emotional connection and responsiveness throughout our lives, primarily from our significant other.

When I work with couples, I’ve taken to calling it the “Iceberg of Disconnection” – the ability we have as couples to hyper-focus on the tip-top jutting out of the water and then continue bumping up against each other due to failure to note the fuller berg below. No blog post could possibly summarize the complexity of EFT or how to create deeply secure attachments. However, I will share my go-to approach based on EFT principles for how to dive below and potentially reconnect with your partner when the protests of disconnection arise. IMG_1569

  1. Stop the Conflict Long Enough to Consider Your Deeper Distress – How many times have you found your day unraveling due to conflict with your sig other about something “silly”? For instance, let’s take Claudia and Jeremy (*names and story fictionalized). Just the other night they got into a bitter argument about “Game of Thrones.” Now some might say that nothing could be more serious than if Daenerys Targaryen assumes the throne or not, but Claudia was far more interested in curling up in her partner’s arms for the night than hugging a cold pillow on the couch. The first step in reconnection is to take a step back and realize you’re not arguing about what you think you’re arguing about (at least not most of the time). Claudia was not angry that Jeremy was only minimally interested in GoT, and he was not distant because he believed she was over-invested. They could have argued all night about which stance toward the show was more “normal” and driven each other crazy. Instead, at some point (about the time she was huffing her pillow and blanket into the other room), she turned around and admitted, “I’m so sad right now.”
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  2. Name Your Protests for What They Are – Claudia was sad because she experienced Jeremy’s lack of interest in GoT as disconnection. That fantasy shows were a common way of connecting with her now deceased brother only added to the depth of her yearning not just for Jeremy’s physical presence but also his emotional presence during this TV event. When she was finally able to say, “I’m sad because I wanted to share this with you and it reminds me of my brother,” it totally changed the conversation. She was able to further explain, “When you put down people engrossed by a TV show it also puts down previous ways of connection that I’ve enjoyed.” Yes, she was angry. But she was also sad, feeling small in so many ways. Claudia needed to speak from her deeper truth in order to draw Jeremy into the connection she was so hungry for.
  3. Respond in Kind – When she got more real with him, Jeremy could have used it against her and continued with distant quips. But instead he allowed her vulnerability to draw out his own. He was able to admit, “When you become so absorbed in the show I feel left out because I just don’t enjoy it the way you do.” This further changed their conversation. From the depths of vulnerability the ice melts, and there’s safety to explore “softer” emotions like sadness, shame, fear, and yearning. There’s room to create connection. IMG_0286

Often when one member of a couple is nagging or yelling it is an attempt to say, “I feel your distance, please reconnect with me!” And when the other person is cold or withdrawn, it is a way of saying, “I am also upset about our disconnection and simply don’t know what to do.” The only way to move past your original disconnect is to be brave enough to name and share your deepest emotional truths with each other.

If you lack the language to speak about your truths or are uncertain about how to respond to your partner, please read Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” and consider the additional assistance of a couples therapist to help you create a deeply sustaining connection.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.

5 Tips for Effective Boundaries

IMG_0727What does someone mean when they say “good boundaries”? It’s a phrase that’s tossed around a lot, and yet most people assume their boundaries are “good” and others’ are “bad.” Who gets to be the expert here? If you back up and consider how boundaries are used in other contexts, it will help you understand how to use them relationally as well. Sometimes a boundary is something very rigid, such as an egg-shell. It clearly protects that which is inside and makes a firm demarcation between the inside and outside that is not easily crossed without destroying the boundary. Other times, boundaries are more diffuse. Think of a picket fence around a home – the fence clarifies property, but you can still see beyond it, and even open the gate to enter without harming the fence. Relational boundaries are no different. In some situations, more rigid boundaries are required to keep your stability, integrity, and safety in tact, while other times it makes sense to loosen your boundaries in order to allow for the vulnerability required to form deep connections with others.

What happens, though, is that many people find themselves interacting with the world from only one or the other vantage point without showing flexibility depending on the given relationship or situation at hand. We’ve all met those people who after knowing you for all of 5 minutes will share about their medical problems, their money woes, and ask you personal questions that would make a reality star blush. And then there are others who keep people at an emotional arm’s length, even those who they are supposedly close to, not knowing how to admit to all the complexities and flaws of being human.

This post will speak more to the former. If you are one of those people who often finds yourself in the thick of relational drama, whose to-do list for others is a mile long, who repeatedly puts yourself in positions where you are taken advantage of, and who sometimes can’t even distinguish which emotions belong to you or others, then this post is for you. Let’s look at some tips for firming up your boundaries!

1) It’s ok to say no. For many people, especially women, the idea of saying no feels terrible. However, “no” is actually a primary purpose of a boundary. “No” says you can’t cross this line, because what’s on the other side belongs to me (be it my space, my time, even my body). Thus, it is incredibly important to practice saying no. Some tips for doing so:
a) Don’t be pushed to give an answer immediately
b) Remind yourself that saying yes to this means saying no to something else – check in with yourself about what you’re giving up to say yes (is it your exercise or creative time, time with your children or spouse, your sense of self-respect, etc.)
c) Be short and sweet with your reply. “No, I can’t do that” is sufficient, it doesn’t require a laundry list of reasons, or any apologies
d) Be open to compromise. Maybe this is something you really want to say yes to or it’s your turn to return a favor – see if there are ways to meet in the middle with someone rather than giving of yourself entirely on someone else’s terms

IMG_07542) Choose your inner circles wisely. It feels so good to meet a new friend or colleague and form a super quick bond. There’s that magical sense of this person just gets me. And those types of quick, lasting relationships do exist! If you have one or more of them, be grateful. But don’t forget that time is also a teller of all secrets. And that it’s over time, with ever-deepening disclosures and need for support, that you come to know you can trust someone. That co-worker you spoke with so openly at lunch the other day may not guard your confidence as closely as his/her own desires to advance. And your new neighbor may pull away when he learns you’re under water on your mortgage. Or conversely, that neat person who was so open and interesting to talk with at first, may now be calling you daily with her “crisis du jour” and you didn’t mean to sign on to be her confidant. I’m not asking you to have people jump through unreasonable hoops, but it is important to make sure those closest to you have earned, not just been given, your trust. And earned trust takes time.

3) Helping versus needing to be needed. We all love people who are naturally compassionate and helpful, who step in to offer a word of kindness or support without immediate expectation for reciprocation. These are the people in our lives who appear to enjoy being kind. These are our saints. However, it’s really important to distinguish for yourself if you like to be helpful or need to be needed. Some people don’t know who they are or what to do with themselves if they are not always in a helping role – if this is you, watch out! There is a fine line between being a saint and a martyr. You may be on the fast track for emptiness and sky-rocketing resentment. If you find yourself constantly in the middle of other people’s crises, being called on in excess to the point that you are angry, or noting to yourself that you are the only one who can do something or the only one who gives of yourself, then it may be time to take a hard look at how you can do more for yourself and let others do more for themselves. If this is a deeply ingrained pattern, the help of a therapist may be valuable.

 4) Two halves don’t make a whole, but two wholes make a great life. Many of us have bought into the romantic notion that another person can “complete” us (thanks, Jerry McGuire!). That where you are strong, he/she is weak, where you are practical, he/she is adventurous, etc. That you are somehow empty and less real without the constant attention and affection of another person. This is such a compelling story because it is basically the story of a newborn and a mother – and we never stop yearning to recreate it. However, between two adults, this story can be very dangerous. By depending on each other too much, by feeling ill at ease when apart even for short periods of time, by cutting off from other parts of yourself and your life, you and your partner risk losing the deep connection, passion, and vitality that makes a couple relationship so worthwhile. Challenge yourself to be a whole all on your own! Develop your personal hobbies, passions, and goals. Some of these you may do together, but some of them should be yours alone. This keeps you both going out into the world and coming back to share what you’ve learned and get excited about it together, rather than closing off the world into the little bubble you both live in that eventually either becomes stagnant or pops. IMG_0750

5) Kids need parents to be parents not friends. As a therapist I’ve worked with a lot of families, and one of the common problems that leads a family into my office is that the parents – albeit well-meaning – do not know how to let their kids be upset or dislike them. They are intent on seeming “cool” and being a kid’s friend. I’m certainly not advocating running your home like a military compound without the warmth and nurture and play that kids need to thrive! But kids also need limits. And they need to test your limits and know those limits are real. I often speak of the 3 C’s to parenting: clear expectations, clear rewards/consequences, and consistency in enforcement. I promise if your kid gets mad at you, it’s won’t last. And once an adult, your child will be so grateful to have grown up in a home where he/she learned that gentle and firm are not mutually exclusive concepts.

If some of these tips seem daunting, don’t be too hard on yourself! One could probably write a whole blog post (or book!) about each topic. Just take a deep breath, connect to your present moment, and ask yourself how you can embrace this moment with the balance the moment calls for. If you find it overwhelming to consider, you may seek the advice of a mental health professional.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

How To Find Your Inner Voice

You must train your intuition — you must trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide. -Ingrid Bergman

We’ve all heard the sage advice from someone – mothers, mentors, and self-help books – about the importance of finding your inner voice. But what exactly does that mean? And why is it so important? What is an inner voice?

Your inner voice can be called many things: soul, heart, gut, wise mind, conscience, intuition, guide … some may even believe in connection to a certain energy, nature, spirit, ancestors, or as Yoda made ever-so-popular in Star Wars, a connection to “the force.” Yet however you chose to define it, your inner voice is an essential component to living a wise and vital life. Your inner voice is that deeply honest and strangely shrewd voice inside that points you in the right direction toward your goals, smells bad news and people coming from afar, and a part of yourself – your birthright even – that helps you live an authentic and even miraculous life.

When making major decisions, feeling dissonance about something and you’re not sure why, or in moments when you realize you’ve really strayed from the path or type of person you set out to be, your inner voice can offer intense comfort and insightful guidance. So how does one tap into his/her inner voice?

1. Quiet Mind – Before you can listen to your deepest self, you have to tune out all the other voices vying for your attention. Friends, family, colleagues, media, everything. Sometimes this mindless or even well-meaning chatter can make it quite difficult to tune into your own frequency. Whether you need literal silence, such as meditation, or engagement in an activity that Zen-ifies your mind, such as sports or art, a quiet mind is a good place to start when trying to tap your inner voice.

2. Expression – If quieting your mind is your connection to that deep place, expression is the process of bringing what is deep to the surface. You may choose to write whatever comes to mind, or engage in some other form of art or expression that works more naturally to you. You may choose to speak your thoughts aloud to a trusted friend or professional. You may choose to engage in a lucid dream if you are lucky enough to have that talent. Whatever you chose, it is important to block the inner-critic, editor, or otherwise naysayer from this process. This is about allowing what is there to bubble to the surface. It is about a process, not a final product.

3. Say It Out Loud – If you haven’t already expressed what your inner voice is saying in a direct manner, do so now. Say it out loud. Say, “I need to find a job that fits my skills and priorities more closely.” “I need to stop drinking so much.” “This person I’ve been dating is not right for me.” “This person I’ve been dating is worthy of my trust and love.” “I’m going to travel to the coast instead of the mountains this year.” Whatever it is – say it out loud.

4. Calm versus Fear – When in doubt about if you’ve tapped your inner voice or not, consider if you are feeling calm or crazed about what message your inner voice has communicated to you. Sometimes we let our fears guide us and call it our inner voice, such as, “I’m sure this won’t turn out good any way, so I just won’t paint tonight.” Other times our inner voice has something important to say, “You need to refill the creative well with good conversation and inspiration before returning to your craft.” These types of messages can be difficult to distinguish. Even if what your inner voice has communicated to you is a scary concept – a big move, starting a family, lifestyle change – you should also have a sense of calm guided by the wisdom and honesty of that decision. Of course you’re nervous, excited, even self-doubtful, but there is a kernel of groundedness. Think: Am I running from something or toward something? With an inner voice, there is a lack of impulsivity, and more of a vision.

5. Personal Values & Goals – If you’re still not sure what to think of your inner voice’s communication with you, consider your own personal values and goals. If you value security, honesty, and loyalty – it’s probably not your inner voice telling you to have an extramarital affair. If you value creativity and community, it’s probably not your inner voice telling you that you aren’t talented enough to share your passion with others. If your goal is to help others, it may be your inner voice pushing you to leave a retail job and go back to school or work for a non-profit. Catch my drift here? When in doubt, consider the source of the inner voice. And that source is you.

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There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
What’s right for you— just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
-Shel Silverstein

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Couples Are Teams: Hallmarks of Happy Ones

Whether it be raising kids, running a home, or navigating a life event like a major illness or career shift, couples are teams. In small every day ways, couples have the chance to be teammates as well: planning meals, money management, even sex! That’s one of the most powerful parts of being a member of a couple: that feeling of you’re not alone. Unfortunately the exciting tingles of falling in love and deep security of early partnership can fade over time when life together becomes routine, stress becomes overwhelming, or when you slowly shift from getting to know each other to assuming you already know all there is to know.

Being part of an effective team is a profoundly satisfying and even invigorating experience. Anyone who plays (or spectates!) sports, enjoys a supportive and successful team at work, or is a member of a choir or theater cast knows the simultaneous surge of excitement and loyalty that a team can bring: that feeling of being part of something larger than yourself.

Who better to enjoy such feelings of  excitement and satisfaction with than your partner? If you’d like to improve the quality of your team as a couple, or want to be sure and maintain the intimacy you’ve already built, take a look at these 6 Hallmarks of Happy Couple Teams:

1. Trust – This seems like a no-brainer, and that’s because trust really is the foundation of every important aspect of your relationship as a couple. If trust is something you’ve not taken as seriously as you meant to, or you’ve encountered big breaks in trust during your life as a couple, it’s time to make rebuilding that trust a top priority. You may consider seeing a professional such as a couples therapist to assist if necessary. If you’re lucky enough to have a trusting relationship, don’t take it for granted. Guard your trustworthiness with each other as the prized treasure that it is.

2. Communication – How can two separate people with two different brains, different histories, different preferences, and different ideas, feelings, plans, and problems possibly work well together as a team without communication? The short answer is they can’t. Being able to share your ideas with your partner is essential to a strong and happy team together. Equally if not more important is the ability to truly listen to your partner’s ideas. This means focusing your mind only on what he/she is saying – not developing a defense or waiting for a chance to talk again. Good communication such as this may be slow in the beginning, or when discussing difficult topics – but it will pay off in terms of highly effective communication in the lifetime of your team.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally – Have you ever heard the saying that how a person reacts to you says more about him/her than you? Well, it’s true. Outside of those heart-to-heart occurrences where your partner may be sharing something important about how you affect him/her, most jokes, snide remarks, and misguided feedback really isn’t personal. It’s just not. Accepting this and avoiding easily bruised feelings will not only change your happiness in your partnership, it will change your life.

4. Self-Soothing – Not taking things personally is much easier if you have the capacity to self-soothe. By self-soothe, I mean the ability to calm yourself down when you have perceived (perhaps falsely, perhaps not) that your partner has slighted you in some way. This does not mean that after you’re calm that you shouldn’t talk about what happened. But don’t rely on your partner to always soothe you with his/her proclamations of love, affection, compliments, etc. Sometime you have to be able to take some deep breaths and remind yourself of your good qualities and worthiness without your partner’s help. The ability to do this will transform your relationship in ways you cannot imagine.

5. Avoid Perfectionism – No one is perfect. We do the best we can, and then have to let the rest go – in each other and in ourselves. I was kayaking with my partner a few weekends ago in a tandem kayak – an endeavor we’d neither done before independently or together. If we’d decided we were going to “perfectly” navigate this unknown river, in this new-to-us flotation device, it would have been a miserable day! Instead we communicated the best we could, problem-solved mistakes such as getting caught on rocks (or yes, there was this one time I fell out of the kayak!), and laughed off the rest. This is a good metaphor for life. Perfectionism isn’t possible, but learning together is.

6. Seek Humor – Along with avoiding perfectionism, the ability to seek humor in situations is key. Couples who can tell a joke, crack a smile, and overall bring levity to life situations have a far greater chance of staying together for the long haul and enjoying themselves along the way. Your brain may be telling you: this is awful, scary, angering. And it may be! Also allow room for the part of the situation that is playful, silly, and adventurous. Enjoy!

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.