Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples


Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples:

 “Underneath all the distress, partners are asking each other: Can I count on you, depend on you? Are you there for me? Will you respond when I need, when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you? Do you need me, rely on me?”

-       Dr. Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight


Go ahead and read that quote again. Really sit with it and become aware of any emotional response you might be having while asking these questions in regard to your own relationship. These questions speak to our attachment needs and our desires to create and feel a safe emotional bond with our partners. These questions are at the heart of Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples, or EFT for short.

If that got you thinking or feeling, possibly about things you don’t necessarily want to think or feel with regards to your relationship, read on. I promise I won’t bore you with too many statistics or jargon only therapists like myself would geek out on. But, there are some pretty important stats I can’t help but share.

Why EFT?

EFT is an evidence-based practice, meaning the clinical practice is based on sound research that demonstrates the effectiveness of the treatment. With more than 30 years of research on the science of adult attachment and emotional bonding, EFT provides a structured approach to couples therapy based on clear, explicit conceptualizations of what causes the cycles of distress in relationships.  I’ll tell you why all of this matters to you, but not before I sneak in one last (and most impressive) bit of data. Research shows that properly performed EFT facilitates movement from distress to recovery in 70-75% of couples, with as high as 90% showing significant improvement.

Okay, so what does this all mean?

Working with an evidence-based practice is analogous to having GPS in your car, without it you’re basically blindly guessing and hoping you arrive at the desired destination. The benefits of this are that with the proper map, the clinician is not making decisions about your relationship based on opinion, or their own relationship successes/failures, but rather specific interventions that work across a wide range of age, ethnicity and sexual orientation.  EFT is not about gimmicks (think “The Five Love Languages) or learning communication tricks like taking a “time out” and walking away for 10 minutes.  EFT is about addressing the security and the emotional bond at the heart of the relationship, and working to reestablish emotional safety and connection. In fact, because a good EFT therapist knows exactly what to be looking for they’ll probably blow your mind and be able to give you a pretty accurate description of how and why most of your arguments go down within the first couple sessions.

Allow me to elaborate on that. A lot of marriage and family therapists don’t have much education specific to dealing with couples in distress. Seriously, I only had one class out of my two-and-a-half years of grad school dedicated specifically to couples counseling (thankfully I decided to seek outside training).  So, it’s common to hear of couples being told things like “speak in I statements” or “take a time out.” The problem with this is that, while walking away to cool off may seem like a healthy thing to do, it could be directly related to the part of your “dance” that is keeping your relationship in distress. A good EFT therapist knows how to identify your negative patterns of interaction and can help inform you as to why this keeps happening.

Think about the questions above again. Are you there for me? Am I valued? Can I count on you? In a relationship where there has been attachment injuries, taking a time out and walking away is going to make it feel like a resounding, “NO,” to all of those questions. A partner with an anxious attachment style (more about attachment styles in future blogs) is going to perceive this as even more of a disconnection and become even more dysregulated. Unfortunately, our attempts to preserve connection in the heat of the moment often come across as blaming or criticism, which might sound a lot more like, “You’re never there for me! You don’t appreciate me! I can’t ever count on you!”

There’s no way for me to encompass all the praise for EFT in this blog post, and frankly you’ve probably had your fill at this time. If any of this resonated with you, find a therapist who practices Emotionally Focused Therapy and give it a shot. I’ve seen couples that feel the relationship is utterly broken return to secure, emotionally connected partners with a little support.

**Feel free to comment. I'd love to hear from you. But, please keep in mind that this blog is for informational and entertainment purposes, and is not intended to treat, diagnose or be interpreted as a substitute for therapeutic services.**