I recently completed about 40 hours of intense training in a therapy process called EFT. Wow! It was amazing! Life-changing! Phenomenal! Can you tell how much I liked it? I’m signed up for another 40 hours of training starting this January.
So what is EFT?
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a short-term (8 – 20 sessions), structured approach to couples’ therapy developed by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the 1980’s. It is based on attachment theory and the idea that humans are hard wired for connection and desire strong, emotional bonds with others. Attachment theory proposes that a healthy attachment between people provides a safe haven: a retreat from the world and a way to obtain comfort, security and a buffer against stress. Children develop attachment patterns based on their early relationships with their primary caretaker, typically a parent. These patterns carry through to adulthood. A secure attachment with a parent creates a secure adult that trusts the world is a safe place and expects people to treat them well. They are usually able to assert their wants and needs with partners. An “unavailable caretaker” creates distress in a baby which carries over into adulthood when an “unavailable partner” causes them to worry about whether or not they are loved and valued in their adult relationships. Attachment theory provides the EFT couple’s therapist with a “road map” for the pattern of distress, emotions and needs between partners.
Why do couple’s fight?
Couples fight about a number of things that bring them to couple’s counseling. It can be anything from simple disagreements to bigger issues involving money, sex, parenting or even emotional or sexual affairs. The challenge for couple’s therapists is to identify the root cause of the fights. Often, a fight is over a silly thing, but it is really caused by long-term hurt within the relationship. For example, when a partner complains that the other partner doesn’t help with the kids, what she really might be thinking is “If he loved me enough, he would understand that I need help and don’t want to do all of this myself.” When one partner complains that the other doesn’t want to have sex, the real reason may be that the other partner doesn’t feel loved enough outside of the bedroom to want to have sex.
According to EFT, couples have relationship problems when they’ve experienced emotional disconnection with their partner at key moments. For example, a partner felt abandoned by the other in a time of great need. This could occur when a partner has a career crisis, gets fired, miscarries, loves a close family member, or has a frightening health issue and does not feel their partner provided the emotional support they needed. This painful disconnection causes the couple to have what is referred to as a negative cycle of emotions such as criticism, anger, sadness. Typically, one partner emotionally and physically withdraws (slams the door, stomps off, shuts down, cries, won’t talk about the problem) while the other pursues and attacks (follows the other around or emails and texts them to get them to talk and continue the fight). The goal of an EFT couple’s therapist is to help couples overcome these negative cycles, to reconnect emotionally, learn new patterns of behavior, and strengthen their emotional bond. Ideally, each partner would be able to express their emotions to the other and reach toward the other for comfort and support in times of sadness, frustration and grief.
EFT in a Therapy Setting
So what does this look like in therapy? The first step is for the couple to come to therapy together to tell their collective story of their relationship. The next appointment is for each partner to come separately and share their family history, how they grew up, whether their needs were met and whether they felt valued and loved by their parents. After this, the couple comes to therapy together and the therapist works to diffuse emotional distress, help the couple recognize their negative cycles, and learn new ways of relating to one another. This involves having the couple turn toward one another in the safety and support of the counseling environment to express how they truly feel and how much pain the other partner causes them. For many couples, this is the first time they feel truly seen and heard by their partner and the impact of this is emotionally staggering and freeing. The other partner typically responds with love and support and the couple feels deeply emotionally connected. After the couple is able to successfully do this in couple’s therapy, they begin to do this at home when they disagree and they find they are fighting with less emotional intensity and are quickly resolving issues in a way that leaves both feeling loved and valued. They also are able to communicate their feelings to one another in a way in which they feel supported and cared about, void of judgement. When couples get to this place, they “graduate” from therapy. Some couples can reach this point within 8-20 sessions. Those with deep emotional hurts such as affairs or past trauma take longer. In my experience, once a couple has experienced EFT, they also find their relationships with others are much more meaningful and authentic. And this is a huge win because relationships truly define the quality of our lives.
If you are looking for a safe place to explore your relationship, please contact me here or by going to the Contact page. I’ve had over 40 hours of specialized training in EFT and would love to help you create more meaningful and loving authentic relationships.
Thanks to the photo by Rawpixel from unsplash.com