Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT): What To Expect
Starting couple therapy is a nerve-wracking experience for most. Often I find that my clients expect that sessions will be arguing matches, or they feared that I, as the therapist, would choose sides and pass judgments.
I hope the following will ease your fears if you are considering couples counselling. Firstly, bravo for having the courage to consider working on and investing in your relationship.
What Emotionally Focused Therapy is Not
To address common fears: Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) is not about encouraging excessive arguing or conflict. An EFT therapist’s goal is to make the relationship feel safer and more emotionally connected.
Also, it is not my role to take sides or to pass judgments or offer opinions about the future of the relationship. The focus of EFT is the process of your relationship communications rather than the content.
Sessions are not about going through long lists of faults you want to discuss. As an EFT therapist, I am a process-consultant rather than expert. My job is to stand alongside you both as we explore the cycles of communication which have created emotional distance.
EFT has the most academic research and most-effective framework for conducting successful couples counselling both in the short and long term. I genuinely believe in the effectiveness of EFT and have seen it work well with all types of couples in a wide variety of situations.
What is EFT?
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) involves exploring specific moments that may occur in your communication cycles, to help each of you learn about what happens within and between each of you when these emotions get triggered.
Examples may come up as we may look at when your partner reminds you to take out the rubbish, does this communication trigger a feeling within you? Do you feel frustrated? Is there something in the tone of their voice that makes you feel judged as “not good enough”, and that makes you feel as if you disappointed them? How do you then respond? Does this then make you want to move away?
Emotions are the Key to Understanding the Distance that You Feel
We have hundreds of words for emotions, but the six primary emotions fall into the following categories:
The more difficult emotions to experience, such as despair, shame and fear arise when we feel our relationship is at risk.
Secondary emotions which arise during communication breakdowns push partners away from each other. Anger tends to be the most common secondary emotion.
Primary emotions are more tender, vulnerable emotions such as shame, fear, sadness and loss. These buried emotions are near impossible to share when we do not feel emotionally safe.
Through EFT, I help you to develop safety with each other to start the process of sharing these more sensitive parts of ourselves. When we see the open expression of vulnerable feelings, it is possible to feel tender and caring toward each other, and this helps to lessen angry attacks. Many of us are unaware of or hide primary emotions.
The Dance or Pattern in Emotionally Focused Therapy
Most distressed relationships have developed negative interaction cycles, which get labelled “communication problems.”
The primary cycles of couples experience fall into the following types.
- Pursue/Pursue: Both partners “pursue” each other when their bond feels vulnerable. Pursuit behaviours can look like arguing, persistent attempts to be in touch by any means possible; it can feel overly clingy.
- Withdraw/Withdraw: Both partners “withdraw” to deal with emotional distance. Withdraw behaviours can involve shutting down, walking away, a lack of communication, general avoidance particularly around potential conflict.
- Pursue/Withdraw: This tends to be the typical dynamic that I see in distressed relationships where one person pursues, the other withdraws.
- Mixed Pursue/Withdraw: Both partners alternate between pursuing and withdrawing behaviours.
When the negative cyle is alive, we can experience our loved one as dangerous. Fear of losing the relationship may trigger secondary emotions such as anger/anxiety which could look like critical arguing or checking out.
- Withdrawers often check out to protect the relationship, avoiding potential arguments.
- Pursuers often are fighting for connection, striving to engage their partner when they feel the disconnect.
We will look at how you are both trying to get attachment needs met in the cycle. We will explore how we rely on secondary surface emotions because we feel unsafe. However, this type of interaction only goes to push each other away, leaving both feeling alone. Hurtful conflict in relationships is actually about loneliness and disconnection, which is left unresolved.
By using EFT, I will help you understand your relationship pattern, understand the emotions underlying it, and discover how to relate to each other in a new, safe and ultimately more profound way.
If you have any questions or would like to speak about this further, please do not hesitate to contact me and we can set up a time to talk. I offer sessions from my office in Hove and online.