Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a short-term evidence-backed therapy with a high success rate in supporting clients to move through difficulties in their relationship. This includes one or both partners who have experienced early trauma. It is shown to to be an extremely effective way of helping distressed couples strengthen their attachment bond, particularly where one or both partners have experienced early trauma.
As a couple in distress you might feel you’ve reached the end of the line, or you are struggling to get past your partner’s infidelity. Perhaps you can’t seem to get your point across without a descent into conflict. When this becomes a habitual pattern it becomes destructive, affecting how safe you feel which can erode intimacy, desire and emotional connection.
Emotional, or attachment bonds in our relationships are physiological and therefore potent. Neuroscience is uncovering how important these attachment bonds are to our sense of safety: distance and separation is perceived as threatening and we go into fight-or-flight mode to get what we need. This emulates our early life experience when we relied on caregivers to survive. It might not feel like it but arguments are often a way to draw our partner closer when we feel they are not attuned to us.
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Modern couples are subject to different stressors than previous generations. Socio-cultural shifts means we have higher expectations that both partners provide for all our emotional needs as well as the financial and practical elements. Children may or may not be part of the way we configure our relationship. Paradoxically we also expect to maintain excitement and passion throughout as we strive to emulate the sexually exciting worlds of the movies. Yet though we know there’s a dissonance between fantasy and reality, disappointment follows and we may wonder if there’s someone better out there. EFT considers the wider context that affects relationships, looking at the systems around the couple that influences their relationship.
How does it work?
Our emotions play a key part in making decisions and in signalling to others our desires, feelings and intentions. Paying attention to our emotions can support us to gauge a situation and act in a way that benefits us and others.
One of the strengths of EFT is that it places emphasis on the negative cycle of conflict couples get pulled into rather than apportioning blame to either person. The therapist works in collaboration with both partners to identify this dance of ‘pursue-withdraw’ or ‘criticise-defend’ as the couple interact in the room. This here and now focus illustrates the triggers, escalation points and underlying feelings that erode attachment bonds but often remain unspoken.
The therapist supports the couple to listen effectively, witness and ultimately validate the other person’s underlying feelings, emotions and desires. Partners learn to express feelings from a place of vulnerability and ask for what they want and need from each other.
The ultimate aim of EFT is to reduce conflict and restore a sense of safety, connection and intimacy. Whatever the outcome you will learn new skills of communication, increase compassion for each other and re-establish trust and safety. It isn’t always an easy journey but you will learn a lot about each other and yourself in the process that will help you make clear decisions about your relationship.
If you would like to try out EFT please get in touch.
Susan M. Johnson (2019) Attachment in action — changing the face of 21st century couple therapy www.Sciencedirect.com