Infinity Loop: Identifying Negative Cycles in Your Relationship

Graphic credited to Jay M. Seiff-Haron, Psy.D.

Graphic credited to Jay M. Seiff-Haron, Psy.D.

Do you ever feel like you go through the same vicious cycle in your relationship? Do you and your partner find yourselves arguing over the same issues, time and time again? Do you want to figure out what isn’t working and make a change for the better?

Consider using the Infinity Loop to improve your relationship. The Infinity Loop is part of Emotionally Focused Therapy, an evidence-based theory used in couple’s therapy. Scott Woolley, PhD, first introduced the Infinity Loop in order to help couples identify the negative cycles that they get stuck in—the negative habits that perpetuate dissatisfaction. Identifying and communicating these cycles’ helps each partner gain a deeper understanding of one another. It is a great tool to help couples have less argumentative and more effective discourse.

Use the following steps, as well as the attached visuals, to identify the negative cycles in your relationship:

Step A: “I yearn for this…..” – What is the most basic thing you want from your partner in this moment? What are you looking for? Example: I yearn to feel loved and important”

Step B: “I feel………when what I yearn for does not happen” – What is that primary feeling that you feel when your need from Step A is not met? Example: I feel sad and insecure when I perceive you don’t love me and I’m not your priority.

 (Steps A and B are happening “under the surface”; more of an internal dialogue. Steps C-F are “above the surface”; what comes out to our partner.)

Step C: “When my vulnerable feelings are too difficult I show ……. Instead” How do you tend to behave behind those thoughts and feelings? Example: I get angry and create distance from you.

Step D: “What I think about me then is……”  – What is your perception of yourself during these times? Example: I’m always being taken for granted and I shouldn’t make myself available to you.

Step E: “What I think about you then is…..”  – What is your perception of you partner during these times? What feeds the vulnerable feeling? Example: You don’t care about me enough to make me a priority.

Step F: “Then, what I do to take care of myself is…….. which triggers my partner” –  What behavior comes out as a response, that is directed at your partner? Example: I tend to totally shut-down, which my partner doesn’t understand, or I pick a fight over something small from our past.

The Infinity Loop is most effective when you share each step with your partner. It gives your partner a better understanding of what is occurring underneath or from within. You can also learn about how your partner is feeling and what he or she is looking for in the relationship. Having this newly acquired knowledge can open up the communication needed to understand one another better. Then, both you and your partner can work together to change and improve your behaviors and your relationship.