Deep Roots: Culture & Attachment – Part 2


Part 2: The Story –

This is a companion to my book on Emotionally Focused Therapy with African American Couples, Love Heals. Therefore, a fundamental understanding of Emotionally Focused Therapy is helpful when reading.

Most therapists tend to tread carefully around race or show a colorblind view of clinical work with black couples as if they are simply interchangeable with white couples. This post is intended to stimulate discussions on how to raise the bar from thinking about race not merely as a demographic category and not implicitly as the idea of colorblindness in therapy models. Cultural humility can be a dynamic, positive concept to promote African American love bonds.

To demonstrate the power and effectiveness of using an EFT map for working with attachment bonds and using a map of race matters to enhance the love bond between an African American couple, I invite you to join me in the couple therapy session of “Clifton” and “Monique.”

The couple has come to couples therapy after an explosive argument. Monique had agreed to drive her long-term girlfriend’s brother to a cookout some distance away at a friend’s home. She did not tell Clifton about driving the brother.

But after several days of Clifton’s questioning, she reluctantly told him about driving to the cookout. They argue for days. This argument ended as most of their heated arguments, with both feeling miserable, and hopeless and not talking to each other for nearly a month before they came to couples therapy.

Revisiting a Painful Moment: Tracking the Negative Cycle & Laying the Foundation for EFT and Cultural Humility

To gain further insight, let’s briefly look at the beginning of tracking this couple’s cycle. 

According to Monique, when Clifton gets a negative feeling about a situation, he creates an internal script. By the time he approaches her about the situation, he has already determined that his story is based on facts. Because he believes his story, he becomes uncomfortable, angry and upset. Monique says that she does not argue with Clifton during these times. She feels that once Clifton accepts his perceived facts as truth, there is no talking to him, and he takes his anger out towards her.

As Monique speaks, I can hear the hurt in her voice, and I can see that it is still very emotional for her as she reflects back to that day. So, I ask her to stay there and talk about that hurt.

She turns to Clifton and asks, “Why have to put that kind of script on me? I mean, you said things that were so vial and nasty.  Like, I was some bitch out on the street!”

Monique stated that although she is not an argumentative person, that day, the couple spewed harsh words at each other, with neither of them backing away from the argument. Monique says it’s not as simple as “he relaxes and calms down,” and her words were equally harsh. She believes that Clifton is still upset and hiding it. She said that’s the way it’s always been.

Slowing Down the Process: Understanding the Cycle with EFT Validations ad Empathetic Reflections

I want us to process how this cycle takes over their relationship. For African American couples, we’re harder on each other sometimes, and we lean a little too carefully into love, trusting that love will be there. I want to slow down the process for them to look at how they interact with one another when things go wrong. My goal is to develop another way of talking about their emotions.

Clifton has some history that Monique has accepted as “his way.” I suggest that during escalation, when the cycle takes over, they change the conversation by eliminating some of the harsh words and lean more into love in their discussions. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is an evidence-based model developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist and one of the leading innovators in couple therapy. Dr. is also the author of several books on EFT, including Attachment Theory and Practice: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, Love Sense and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love. In addition, she has produced many training videos with the International Center of Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Those interested should seek out Dr. Johnson’s work for background regarding EFT.

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