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Understanding Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples


For those who aren’t familiar with Emotionally-Focused Therapy, (EFT) this is a short introduction. This approach is central to the way I practice. Identifying your emotion (for example; I feel annoyed when you don’t take out the rubbish) is at the centre of the approach. However, more specifically it is about experiencing the emotion, slowly and patiently, with your partner at the moment it is occurring. This process will encourage empathy between you both and help make long term changes to your style of handling conflict and communication breakdown.

As an EFT therapist, I will ask questions about both your experiences, validate and normalise your emotional response, encourage you both to reflect on and identify your interaction patterns during the session.

You may be thinking, so why is focusing on emotions important for couples, that sounds like hard work?

Through allowing yourself to be present with your feelings and importantly acknowledging your partner’s emotional experience, you can create a secure platform for rebuilding a safe and loving connection. It is so much easier to listen to what your partner has to say if you feel safe and connected. They are then less likely to attack or withdraw from the conversation if they too feel heard.

The fastest way to facilitate a loving connection is by relating to and empathising with your partner’s experience (cultivating the experience of being on the same team vs feeling like opposing parties).

Being vulnerable and sharing your emotional vulnerabilities is often not easy so establishing trust and safety with your partner is the first goal in EFT.

Don’t most couples therapists talk about emotions? What does an EFT therapist do specifically different?

Someone watching an emotionally focused therapy session would see the therapist continually engaged in three interventions.

Firstly we are continuously monitoring, creating and maintaining a safe alliance with both partners. Second, we will focus on expanding emotional responses, and thirdly we link emotional reactions to how communication breaks down and the negative interactive cycle begins. Through this process, both partners feel safe and seen by the therapist and each other.

According to Sue Johnson, the creator of EFT, whether you disagree with your partner about the kids, sex, or washing up, feeling disconnected at the end of the conversation will destroy your relationship. The issue itself, (the kids, sex or washing up) is secondary.

Why do we find ourselves in these difficulties in relationship?

Emotion, by its nature, is more often than not fast and impulsive. It is often communicated quickly (verbally and non-verbally) and can be challenging to interpret.

Many people struggle not to react emotionally, particularly when their partner is reacting with painful emotions. Also, we are often unsure of how to manage negative emotions within ourselves. Having a third party to recognise and teach these skills of regulation and understanding can make all the difference.

Please get in touch if you would like to know more.

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