Energy Psychology Transforms a Troubled Marriage

With the success of The Energies of Love, we are seeing more couples using “tapping” to help their relationship. The following case is excerpted from that book:

Jim and Elizabeth, both in their early 30’s, had been together for eight years when they entered counseling. Elizabeth was certain that despite what he said, Jim no longer loved her. Jim felt he was continually trying to offer his wife emotional support, but that his efforts were misconstrued and harshly judged. While most of the time both Jim and Elizabeth felt a positive spark in their connection, hard times had become more frequent ever since Elizabeth had taken a new job as an event planner a year earlier. She’d often come home feeling demoralized, full of self-criticism, and seething with resentment that her supervisors were getting credit for her successes. Jim’s efforts to provide comfort seemed only to irritate her. In turn, he’d respond with frustration and anger, leading her to withdraw and sink ever deeper into despair. Not only were her problems at work unresolved, she’d lament, but her husband seemed incapable of providing what she needed emotionally.

As they described their respective sides of this story, one thing that stood out for me [David] was Elizabeth’s inability to sooth herself when in pain. She completely relied on Jim to help her feel better after the day’s tribulations, and when his efforts failed, she felt not only abandoned but helpless. Jim’s issues were in perfect lockstep with his wife’s: when Elizabeth would become despondent, he’d panic and repeat the same ineffective strategies until finally moving into anger and blame.

I gathered this information within the first 40 minutes of the initial two-hour consultation with them. While I listened actively and tried to restate what I was hearing in a way that imparted hope, I was also on alert for any issues where tapping could give both partners an immediate experience of making progress. So I decided to focus first on Elizabeth’s self-criticism. The temporary shift to one partner and away from the couple’s interactions is standard practice when using tapping in couples therapy.

To start, I asked Elizabeth to bring to mind a situation where she felt she failed. She recalled an event she’d hosted at work just the previous week. In recalling all the ways she felt she could have done it better, she gave her sense of internal distress a rating of 10 (on a 0 to 10 “subjective units of distress” or SUD scale). After a few rounds that had her tapping on about a dozen acupuncture points while keeping the incident in mind and doing a few other physical procedures designed to facilitate left-right hemisphere integration, she rated the distress she felt about the incident at a 7. This took about three minutes and her reaction was typical, as the tapping calmed her back brain even in the absence of insight or conscious intention. Another round brought the SUD down to 5, but it seemed stuck there after the next two rounds. When I asked about her experience while giving the SUD rating, she reported that scenes from her past emerged, childhood memories of longing for her father’s approval and not getting it, despite her younger brother being constantly praised and admired. Bringing her focus to a specific incident, she recalled yearning for her father’s approval after performing in a school play and rated it at a 10. Her pain was evident, and Jim had empathic tears in his eyes as he watched.

An advantage of being able to do a round of tapping in two to three minutes is that you can cover many aspects of an issue in a single session. We stayed with Elizabeth’s childhood memory of not receiving approval until it had been tapped down to zero, requiring about five rounds. We then focused on her brother’s receiving the praise she longed for, this time going from 7 to 0 on a childhood memory. Quickly reducing the SUD score on a series of painful memories down to 0 for each is typical in energy psychology treatments. While you usually try to tap on specific incidents and the emotions and physical sensations they bring up, core beliefs can also be a focus of tapping, such as the exaggerated authority Elizabeth was still giving her father to determine her sense of worth. Although we made some progress on this issue, further resolution was going to have to wait for another session because I wanted them both to experience tapping.

So at this point I had Jim recall a recent time he was unsuccessfully trying to comfort Elizabeth. For him, the initial SUD was at a 10. And again, as often happens, memories began to surface once the tapping had taken some of the charge off the immediate issue. Jim’s mother had suffered from depression, and his determined efforts to cheer her up didn’t work particularly well, though he kept trying for years. The overlay from those experiences left him highly reactive when he couldn’t console Elizabeth. Seeing her husband’s boyhood dilemmas and pain moved Elizabeth to tears. By the end of the session, I felt that a healing alliance between them had been established.

Subsequent sessions used the same basic approach. As childhood issues were cleared, the focus returned to recent incidents in their relationship. Some would bring the tapping back to childhood experiences, but within five sessions Elizabeth was able to register Jim’s compliments, ask her supervisors for more public recognition, and view her accomplishments through her own eyes rather than those of a critical father. Jim became less panicked, more resourceful, and more patient when Elizabeth was feeling upset.

One of the final issues we addressed was one that had shown up in the first session, Elizabeth’s difficulties in soothing herself when she was emotionally distraught. A mental association was made by using tapping combined with affirmations (e.g., “Even though there may still be times that I feel down, I know I will feel better if I sit on the porch and listen to Enya”) to link times of feeling despondent with ways she could console herself. Beyond calming the back brain, tapping also seems to enhance the power of suggestions and self-affirmations. For Elizabeth, not only did the episodes of struggling with her self-worth become much less frequent and intense, she also began to feel more confident that she could take positive steps that would bring her comfort and relief. As self-soothing became an option for her, she no longer felt the same desperate need for Jim to assuage her despair or the intense anger when he didn’t come through. Ironically, as is often the case, with Jim feeling less pressure from Elizabeth, he became much more effective in comforting her. Now that his overtures of support could be accepted and appreciated when they were needed, what had been a thorny obstacle to their intimacy became instead a source of bonding.