EFT relationship counselling
This article describes some of the principles behind emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT), which is an approach to relationship counselling that focuses on the importance of creating a secure bond of adult attachment
The importance of a secure bond
Emotionally focused couples therapy is based on the premise that a strong relationship is based on feeling that your partner is emotionally available and responsive to you. What this means is that your partner is a safe person for you to share your feelings with, someone you can depend on and reach out to when you need reassurance that they love you.
Emotionally focused couples therapy came out of research done by Dr Sue Johnson on adult attachment that demonstrated the importance of a couple feeling a secure safe bond together. She watched couples argue and realised that the driver behind arguments was that couples were attempting to reconnect to each other. They were attempting to get reassurance:
"Do I matter to you?"
"Do you love me?"
"Will you be there for me when I need you?"
"Can I count on you?"
The issue often is that when couples fight they get defensive and critical of each other and don’t recognise what core feelings are fuelling the argument. Underneath the anger and protest, the core feeling may be aloneness, powerlessness, feeling unloved, unworthy or "not feeling good enough". Emotionally focused therapists work with couples to de-escalate the conflict so there is enough trust and safety to speak about core feelings.
EFT compared to other relationship counselling approaches
Other approaches to relationship counselling have similarities and overlap in approach to emotionally focused couple therapy, however, the distinguishing factors are its focus on working with underlying emotions, it’s use of enactments (described below) and the lens of working with adult attachment to create a secure bond.
A new light on love
Emotionally focused therapy is based on the premise that adult love is based on a couple having a secure emotional bond based on these A.R.E Qualities:
Accessibility - you are open to each over even when you have doubts and feel insecure. So instead of criticising your partner in the form of 'telling them what wrong with them', you risk sharing with your partner how they impact you without blame.
Responsiveness - you tune into each other's emotional cues, and love needs. You send and receive clear signals of comfort and care.
Engagement - you know you are there for each other and feel safe in the special bond you share. You are a priority to each other. You are emotionally present giving each other the special kind of attention you give only to a loved one. You work together to continually nourish your relationship.
What happens in Emotionally Focused Therapy?
Typically couples come to counselling because they are having repeated arguments that escalate and they begin to feel distant from each other. Emotionally focused therapy supports couples to have their viewpoint heard and acknowledged and gradually see that underneath arguing about the content the real issue is a lack of a secure bond.
EFT helps couples re-establish the bond through the couple learning about their underlying vulnerable feelings and what offensive/defensive action they take in attempt to get their partner on their side.
The therapist helps them recognise and name their destructive pattern of arguing in the form of "the more I do this, the more it triggers you to do this", and how the pattern repeats. The couple sees how it’s the pattern that is the enemy rather than each other. For example, a common pattern is that one partner pursues in critical demanding manner while their partner withdraws. The pursuer feels unloved, while the withdrawer feels they can’t get it right and they end up distancing to protect the relationship and to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
The couple is supported to slow down their pattern to see how they trigger each other into a re-enforcing cycle. Each partner begins to connect what they feel at core level inside, e.g. unloved, or fear of "not being enough". They learn what they do to defend against feeling what they are feeling in the argument. They begin to learn about their unspoken attachment needs and feelings that fuel the pattern.
Once the couple is beginning to work together on their pattern, The emotionally focused couples' therapist helps the couple to identify "feeling messages" and then face their partner and share what they're feeling and needing in an open, heart-based way. These heart-based enactments provide the couple with a new experience of reaching for each other. Effectively it’s asking for reassurance and learning how to express needs. They also experience being emotionally responsive to their partner, through giving reassurance and attending to their partners needs.
Breaks of trust
Emotionally focused couples therapy looks at how to repair breaks of trust by providing a place where the significance of a break of trust and attachment can be expressed and understood.
Emotionally focused couples therapy also looks a how couples get stuck in sexual patterns when there isn’t a secure bond. A couple may be having sealed off sex to avoid intimacy because intimacy feels too vulnerable or solace sex where the focus is on seeking reassurance from each other. The invitation is for couples to learn how to be emotionally open and responsive to each other which allows what Sue Johnson calls 'synchrony sex' which fulfils, satisfies and connects the couple.
Find out more
If you would like to know more about emotionally focused therapy, I recommend reading Dr Sue Johnson’s Book called "Hold Me Tight" which describes a new view of love and describes seven conversations you can have with your partner to increase your connection.
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About Richard Cole
Richard Cole is a Emotionally Focused Therapist based in Brighton/Hove.