Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples

Marital counseling has typically focused on teaching couples how to be better at some things (communication skills, sex) while doing less of others (unhelpful/destructive behaviors). But overall, less than half of distressed relationships improved, long-term. According to the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Dr. Sue Johnson, this is because distress in intimate relationships actually derives from “the overwhelming fear of being emotionally abandoned, set adrift in the sea of life without safe harbor.  It is that fear of emotional disengagement that precipitates the demands, criticism, arguments and silences . . . these are just an attempt to call, even force, a partner back into emotional connection.” Just as John Bowlby demonstrated through his attachment theory that relationship distress is a result of deprivation – similar to the one between parent and child – Dr. Johnson says that adult romantic love is also an attachment bond.

More than 20 years of research has demonstrated EFT works for all kinds of couples with varying degrees of problems. Ninety percent of couples that receive EFT therapy report improvement. It is also effective regardless of the level of distress a couple begins with. In fact, nearly three-quarters of couples in distress report recovery after EFT. So even if you feel like your marriage is beyond hope or divorce is inevitable, EFT could still help. Obviously, EFT is a revolutionary departure from traditional marriage therapy.

How does EFT work?

EFT offers a clear map with 9 steps and 3 stages.  The process is a little different for each couple, but in general here’s why it works.

Often, partners get stuck in negative patterns or cycles that escalate into conflict, distancing, and disaffection. Feelings of frustration multiply. It seems like partners can do nothing right, and love seems to be dying (or is gone).

  • EFT is designed to target these negative patterns that push couples apart and feed conflict.
  • EFT shines a light on the primary emotions underneath the anger and frustration and help partners move into compassion where they can begin to understand the vulnerable, core emotions like hurt and fear that are driving their partner’s anger.
  • As the couple starts to understand what is driving the cycle, they are able to step back and see the cycle as the Common Enemy, and learn how to stop the cycle and connect in new ways. They become more capable of recognizing and describing what is really going on underneath, and their negative cycle begins to de-escalate. They don’t fight as often and they begin experiencing each other in a different way – with more empathy and understanding. The Other is no longer the Enemy. This change results in a more secure connection (attachment) between partners.
  • The final phase of EFT is achieved when both partners experience a strong emotional bond that equips them to face the storms of the future together. EFT isn’t about solving relationship problems or one or both of them changing behaviors. It’s about connecting at a deeper emotional level, experiencing an emotional bond of sustainable, lasting love, and then tackling the old problems as a team.

It is important to note that EFT is NOT for couples presenting with ongoing Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence.  Also, if one or both have significant problems with substance abuse, this should be attended to first before working on the relationship. Finally, if one of the partners is having an affair (with no intention of stopping), EFT will not be a good fit. EFT is for couples who are still “in” the relationship, despite how difficult or unpleasant it may have become.

You can learn more about EFT by visiting iceeft.com