Feedback loop in a Couples interaction


Quick summary: In a Couples interaction there tend to be dynamics that are reoccurring which spiral out of control and lead to a vicious cycle in which resolution in highly unlikely. I will offer a tool to be used by a therapist to help a couple in isolating and reflecting upon their cycle. Once the couple is able to externalize and visualize the pattern they are more likely to be able to utilize choice to do something different than the actions which would perpetuate the cycle.

Couples can also use this tool without a therapist… to make the exercise effective it will be very important for each partner to isolate what THEY do to perpetuate the cycle and what THEY can do differently if the goal was to interrupt the cycle. To be clear, do not focus on what your partner can do and does.

Feedback loop

How to use this:


Assessment phase

  1. 1st the therapist explains that there is no blame here… our intention is simply to find the pattern so that we can change the pattern at any number of points in the feedback loop.
  2. The therapist can make the decision to either assess the cycle generally = meaning the therapist asks what normally happens in unsuccessful conversations… or… the therapist can ask the couple to use a specific argument.
  3. Externalize the feedback loop and explain that it is the pattern, and not the people, which needs to be adjusted.
  4. Ask for a volunteer to start and remind them that the feedback loop can start with either partner (or can be caused by the environment = trigger, projection, misinterpretation, emotion related to another stimulus etc.)
  5. Ask partner 1 what they were feeling and thinking…. Then ask him/her what they did or how they behaved towards their partner following the thoughts and feelings. Note: it doesn’t matter if thoughts come before emotions or emotions come before thoughts, but the way they chose to interact with their partner should always be the therapist’s last question.
  6. Next turn to the other (2nd) partner and ask them what they thought and felt related to the way their partner interacted with them. Then you ask how they chose to interact with their partner in response to their thoughts and emotions.
  7. Finally you turn back to the 1ast partner and ask what they thought and felt related to the 2nd partners chosen behavior or chosen means of interaction.
  8. The therapist then continues this circle until it seems to rap back around (within reason, you will rarely create a perfect feedback loop as often the loops escalates to a place that is way worse than the starting point)

Intervention phase: finding the need and finding a means of breaking the feedback loop

  1. For every one of the feelings/thoughts/behaviors sections the therapist asks the relevant partner, “what need did you have at this moment?”
  2. The therapist directs the client to tell their partner what the need was and what they really wanted their partner to do or to understand.
  3. The therapist then asks the partner “How will you interact in the future to get that need met?” or “how will you choose to interact when you will be getting that need met most effectively?” – again have them tell the partner.
  4. Write the answer down for partner 1 on the top part of the arrow.
  5. Next you turn to the 2nd partner and ask, “When you partner feels, thinks, and then interacts this way what will you do differently to stop the cycle from spinning out of control?”
  6. Write the answer down for partner 2 on the bottom part of the arrow.
  7. Continue this method for every thought/emotion/behavior section.

Reinforce the new narrative

  1. Finally the therapist will hold the diagram up in front of the couple and offer empathy and understanding for the thoughts and feelings while reinforcing with genuine hope that the partners will be using an interaction to best get their needs met from now on… and that they will allow space for reflection so that they don’t continue the feedback loop when their partner stumbles and uses an ineffective interaction method.
  2. Allow the couple to engage in a positive conversation about the externalized cycle


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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