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Marriage and domestic partnership can be among the most rewarding relationships life has to offer. But sometimes, it can also be one of the saddest, most frustrating relationships we have in our lives. No relationship is perfect. Each has it’s own faults. But sometimes the negatives begin to outweigh the positives and it’s then that couples who truly want to save their relationship begin to seek help for healing.

Many different techniques and therapeutic approaches can be helpful in bringing couples back together, and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is one of those.

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy – or EFT – is a technique based on decades of research, developed by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg and first used in the 1980s. Usually a short-term therapy lasting from about 8 to 20 weeks, EFT focuses on adult relationships and attachment/bonding, looking at patterns that have been established in the relationship and assisting with steps that will help create a stronger bond and a more trusting relationship.

In the words of the creator of emotionally focused couples therapy, Dr. Sue Johnson:

We now have a map to the territory called love and we can empower couples by showing them new systematic ways to take control of dances of disconnection and conflict and, even more important, help each other move into the open, close embrace that is a secure loving bond.

With research studies showing that some 75 percent of couples undergoing EFT are able to move from periods of distress to periods of recovery, this form of couples therapy is now considered among the most empirically-validated forms of couples therapy available. Furthermore, those same studies show that recovery is quite stable and relapses into undesirable behaviors are the exception rather than the rule.

When should EFT be used?

Emotionally focused couples therapy can assist couples with a variety of issues that have caused distress to their marriage or relationship.

Often times, EFT is employed when couples are dealing with betrayal by one of its members, a loss of trust, anger over internal or external issues, and fear or anxiety caused by any number of reasons. EFT is often used for couples who are facing life-threatening illnesses or chronic disorders or who are dealing with a child with a chronic or life-threatening illness.

While it primarily addresses couples-related issues, EFT also benefits each individual in the relationship. It has been proven that this type of therapy has the ability to reduce individual symptoms of stress, trauma, or depression as well, which serves to benefit all parties involved as well as other family members who get caught in the mix, including children.

So how does it work?

Therapists who practice EFT concentrate on the present; the here and now, so to speak. As such, the three steps of emotionally focused therapy include the following:

  • The de-escalating of the couples’ negative cycle of interactions. This will help them figure out what’s happening in their relationship, the destruction behaviors that are present, and the insecurities that are causing the negative behaviors.
  • The second step is to work to restructure those interactions. The therapist will guide clients towards discussing their fears in a constructive manner and will help each to learn to use language that doesn’t push the other away. This way, each member of the couple becomes more open and responsive to the other.
  • The third stage is what is referred to as consolidation. During these sessions, the therapist guides clients towards learning how they fell into these into negative patterns, emphasizes how they were able to change those patterns through therapy, and stresses how they can continue these types of conversations in the future, even without the mediation of a therapist.

The end result

So, what should couples expect after choosing emotionally focused couples therapy to improve their relationship?

First, couples learn to express themselves deeply and learn to share their underlying emotions from a place of vulnerability rather than a place of spite and discord. They become able to ask that their partner meet their needs without feeling selfish. They learn new ways to listen and stay attuned with one another’s emotions.

Their undesirable behaviors (like lashing out in anger or withdrawing in silence) are given a title – protests of disconnection – and they learn how to replace those destructive behaviors with those that will better their bond with and attachment to one another. Mostly, the couple becomes empathetic and engaged with one another and learns how to speak and act so that they create a safe haven between the two of them.