Feedback Loops

One goal in couples counseling is to have respectful conversations about relationship issues that need to be addressed. If a couple escalates with each other, the conversation typically spirals out-out-control; partners sometimes regret what they said. Escalation only takes two to three statements to occur.

Another unproductive conversation is looping, in which the conversations gets caught in circles. The partners tend to repeat their points in various ways and the conversation typically ends in frustration. This occurs when a couple gets dogmatic, e.g., “This is what happened,” and the response being “No, this is what happened.” If this pattern persists, the couple gets locked into a loop.

What successful couples do is create a feedback loop. When a conversation escalates, they are able to give their partner feedback on the process without attacking. If their partner criticizes them, they are able to tell the partner that they are feeling criticized without blame. For example they are able to say, “I feel criticized,” which is feedback, versus “You are criticizing me,” which is an attack.

If the conversation is looping, the couple is able to comment on the process. “I feel like we are going in circles” comments on the process and allows the couple to agree to disagree. A good ground rule is that a couple is only able to express a perspective twice. Otherwise, the couple is trying to repeatedly convince one another that their way or perspective is the correct one.

Successful couples are able to give one another feedback—the feedback loop—rather than escalating and looping.