When escalated couples in stage one frazzle you!

Do you walk out of the room after being with highly escalated couples and wonder if you’re cut out for this work? We’ve all been there. You just need some help to reframe what’s going on for you and them when they’re angry. We want to reassure you, help you understand anger differently and give you tips for dealing with your escalated couples.

Here’s what to know about escalated couples

It’s SO normal that they (couple) come in like this, and totally understandable to feel it’s ALOT to hold. It is! Of course, they’re bringing big emotions that they want help with. Your mantra can be, “it’s not a failure on their part or yours if the feelings are big and outta control.”

See their big feelings as an anguished plea for connection and protest of disconnection, all jumbled up. It’s tragic because it’s creating the opposite of what they want – they’re pushing the other person away. 

It’s easy and normal when anyone around you has emotions for your nervous system to be affected. Let alone when you’re supposed to be the ‘expert’ in the room.

Don’t worry where there is anger; there is hope 

They’re fighting for the relationship. See anger as your escalated couples standing up for themselves and their relationship the best way they know-how.

Try to match their intensity or be a little stronger – don’t use a quiet, soothing therapist voice.

Remember your role, and that’ll help you feel better

You’re not the fixer of their daily problems. Your part is to be with them and help them get above the argument to heal their relationship. 

Your focus is to guide the couple to pause and join you in looking at what’s happening right here in the room. For instance, you might invite them to look from a ‘helicopter view’ or to ‘zoom out’ with you. This way, you can help them get space from the story and productively work with their emotions.

What can you do for yourself? 

Feel the back of your chair, how you’re supported literally. Use your breath. Take a breath – breathing calms your nervous system, and that helps everyone in the session.

Remember, this is a work in progress. The couple’s anger and distress have not developed overnight, and it won’t be solved through a quick fix – one session, one sprinkle of magic fairy dust! You are a decent human, not a magician. It is not all down to you.

Be gentle and kind to yourself. That you’ve been there, present with these dear people who are struggling so hard for their relationship counts. Stay ready to learn and reflect on the session, get support and keep growing. This gets easier with experience, and even then, we all have sessions that derail. It’s about finding your way to be ok with that and seeking support if you’re not.


Written by MCEFT members Mukti Jarvis and Marg Ryan