Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy – the strategy
It is quite clear now that couples “attach” to each other. Even though this might seem like a dependency, “attachment” is a healthy reliance on your partner – a reliance that creates a safe bond, and a sense that you are known and understood.
During your life you learn what you can expect from relationships, and if you have had some disappointing ones, your mind remembers them. Even in a new and hopeful relationship, your mind will be keeping one eye on signs of possible disappointment. You learn to guard against those, and to enjoy the parts of the relationship that please you. Rightfully so! However, when couples seek help with relationships that are making them unhappy, they usually have gone quite a long time without having their disappointments recognized. Having tried all the strategies in their books, they feel hopeless.
The Relational Bond
Emotionally Focused Therapy does not focus on the events that disappointed, only hearing them briefly for context, but focuses instead on the underlying bond of safety that has eroded. This is why I prefer EFT. It is efficient. From the studies that Dr. Sue Johnson did with couples, she began to notice that distressed couples spoke about their arguments in extreme terms, such as “I felt completely alone, completely devastated. I just wanted to leave forever, and never come back. I was so hurt that I wanted to die.” She recognized that the lack of connection felt like a threat to their survival.
A Threat to Survival
In EFT we treat the broken bond as a threat to survival. To modern couples this sounds too extreme in its description of their adult relationship, but in therapy, when couples understand the needs that lie underneath their partner’s extreme responses, they can attend to the fears that are prompting such intense escalations in what often seems like very minor disagreements.
How to Spot an EFT Moment
When you recognize that your fights have a familiar feel to them, and the behaviors have a similar ring, you know that you have a negative EFT pattern. Working with a therapist to restore your ability to support your partner in an escalation is very effective to restoring the trust in the relationship. From that point, many of the difficult issues can be resolved.
When someone feels threatened, the body prepares itself for an extreme response. Digestion or deliberation are put on hold, and adrenaline floods the organs. The eyes dilate. The brain reacts, and nothing of much sense comes from the thinking brain. People often don’t recognize this altered state, and try to discuss their problems. In this escalated state, people feel unsafe. In EFT we teach couples to calm each other down so that they may discuss their issues more effectively.
When couples have experienced being heard and having influence, their relationship flourishes. They are then able to tackle the difficulties together. It turns out that human beings prefer this, and many studies show that health improves and longevity increases for couples who are well connected. There are many side benefits. It is as if they can “have it all.”