Many couples reach a point in their relationship where they recognize they need help establishing or maintaining healthy dynamics. Engaging in couples therapy can be an opportunity to strengthen and deepen connection with our partners.
While there are many ways that couples therapists work with clients to help them achieve their relationship goals, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a unique strengths-based framework that acknowledges, normalizes, and amplifies the needs we all have in relationships and the important role our partner plays in helping us meet those needs.
Additionally, over 20 years of empirically validated research has shown that, using EFT, 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and about 90% of couples show significant improvements. EFT has also shown positive results with couples dealing with depression, grief, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and eating disorders.
I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me
I’m beggin’ you to beg me
– Cheap Trick
How many times have we heard the message that being a healthy adult means being able to take care of yourself? That if we find ourselves needing our partner “too much” or vice versa, that is a red flag? As babies, we are bundles of need. We cannot feed ourselves, calm ourselves, keep ourselves safe. So we do the best we can with the limited means available (screaming, crying, screaming some more) to let our guardians know that we need them and we hope that they will do their best to figure out what we are asking for. As we get older, we learn how to do more and more things on our own and, somewhere along the way, most of us learn that we should be enough for ourselves. Having others around is great, certainly desirable, but definitely not a need.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), a framework developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, sees adult romantic relationships as the natural next step in our development from needing our parents to needing our partners. Instead of seeing dependency on others as unhealthy, EFT assumes that we never really stop needing other people, even as we increase our ability to care for ourselves. In fact, needing things in relationships, and figuring out how to communicate those needs to our partners is seen as baked into what it means to be human and is the foundation of EFT. Why do it all by yourself when you have the gift of someone else to help carry the load?
How Does EFT Work?
An EFT couples therapist will guide the couple through the following nine steps, all with the goals of deeping connection and establishing secure attachment. Secure attachment is simply knowing that we can depend on our partner to show up for us in the ways we need them to.
Identify the Problem- Identify what is bringing the couple in and how they each see the problem
- Identify the Cycle – Explore how each partner currently tries to express how they feel about the problem. Does one tend to yell while the other shuts down or leaves the room? Is one partner always bringing up issues while the other does their best to avoid talking about problems?
- Explore underlying feelings – Identify what might be some of the emotions that lead to each partner expressing themselves the way they do. For example, while many people outwardly express anger or disinterest, there are also feelings such as hurt and fear that go unsaid
- Reframe the Problem – Help the couple see the cycle as the problem to be worked on together instead of seeing themselves or the other person as the problem. This also means understanding how the cycle is ultimately driven by a deep need to feel connected, safe, and secure in the relationship
- Help each partner identify their needs – Allow space for each partner to begin to explore what they might need from each other
- Help each partner accept each other’s emotional experience – Support each partner in understanding and acknowledging each other’s previously unexpressed emotions
- Help each partner express needs – Once needs have been identified and a safe space has been created, help each partner communicate those needs
- Explore new solutions – The expression of needs that previously went unsaid now means that there are new avenues for the couple to explore to address old issues
- Consolidation – Support the couple in continuing to practice this new way of communicating needs to each other with existing problems and/or as new issues arise
Who Is EFT For?
EFT is for couples that:
- Find themselves fighting over the same things over and over again
- Feel anxious, overwhelmed, or unsure
- Generally feel great about the relationship but want new ways of communicating or approaching conflict
Contact Alexandra Backis, LCSW @ firstname.lastname@example.org for sessions or a consultation.
Additional resources on EFT can be found at: The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy or check out Love Sense or Hold Me Tight, both by Dr. Sue Johnson