Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and Emotional intelligence
What is emotionally focused therapy?
When we fight with our partner, our arguments can feel familiar because they follow a certain pattern. Even if the topic is different it’s the same cycle. Emotionally focused therapy can help you identify this pattern and see that it’s a result of emotional needs that are unmet.
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a research-proven approach that views disagreements between couples as a result of insecure attachments. Clients experience, accept, and transform negative emotions and patterns into positive emotions and bond-enhancing interactions. EFT is useful for couples caught in a never-ending battle with the same outcome every time where both parties feel distanced.
One of EFT’s goals is to create a secure emotional bond between you and your partner. This is the feeling of comfort you get knowing that your partner is there for you, and that they care about your needs. Right now, that sense of security might be missing because your emotions dictate your actions instead of informing your decisions to encourage compassionate communication.
When we become aware of our emotions, learn how to regulate them, and transform them into loving interactions, we become more emotionally intelligent, understanding, and secure in our relationships.
What do your fights look like?
There are common patterns that keep you from moving forward. Often, these patterns are a dizzying dance of demands, critiques, or withdrawal.
Attack – Withdraw
During disagreements, you may attack, criticize or raise your voice. You may withdraw, get quiet, or give your partner the cold shoulder. One partner may attack and the other may withdraw.
Here is an example of this pattern.
Monika: Hey babe, what should we cook for dinner?
Steven: (Distracted) Anything is fine.
Monika: Forget it. You never care about us spending time together.
Steven: (Sighs, goes quiet, doesn’t respond)
Monika is upset that Steven is distracted when she’s trying to do something special together. Steven feels criticized and hurt, so he gets quiet.
Monika, beneath the surface, is afraid of being disappointed and let down because of Steven’s history of not putting in effort towards quality time. This fear manifests as anger and dismissal.
At the same time, Steven withdraws because he’s afraid he’ll always be defined by his past actions and will never meet Monika’s expectations. This fear manifests as withdrawal and distance.
Withdraw – Withdraw
In some cases, both partners withdraw. The problem doesn’t get addressed nor resolved, and the next time the issue arises, the pattern repeats. This can lead to you becoming a conflict-avoidant couple.
What makes emotionally focused therapy different from other therapy forms?
There are various approaches used in couples therapy.
|Therapy Method||Goal||Intended Client|
|Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)||Identify, express, and healthily transform feelings and needs to break negative patterns||Couples, individuals|
|Gottman Method||Adhere to 7 principles of a healthy marriage, mainly developing friendship, managing conflict, and building bonds through common goals||Couples|
|Solution Focused Therapy||Build a solution to a short-term, present problem, empowering the client by looking through a positive lens and identifying personal strengths||Couples and individuals|
|Cognitive Behavioral Therapy||Treat mental disorders by identifying negative thought patterns and unproductive behavior, unlearning these patterns, and developing new, healthier coping mechanisms||Mostly for individuals, but can be used for couples|
|Narrative Therapy||Collaborative therapy where the client(s) tells stories from their life and, together with the therapist, envision new stories or reframe old stories to challenge self-perception, develop new problem-solving skills, and identify unknown strengths||Individuals and couples|
Other defining features of emotionally focused therapy
Emotionally focused therapy doesn’t aim to eliminate emotions; that would be counterproductive. Instead, EFT helps you accept emotions and unlock a new understanding of these emotions.
Together, you and your therapist explore how these meanings relate to your wants and needs. When we know what emotions mean to us, we know how to act appropriately in all situations.
Emotionally focused therapy boosts our emotional intelligence
This is what a high emotional intelligence indicates. You use emotion as an adaptive tool instead of a passive occurrence to identify problems and act accordingly.
In other words, we’re changing our mindset from “I can’t help it, that’s how I feel, so that’s how I react” to “I recognize and accept my emotions, and now I can pave a productive way forward that harmonizes with my needs and my partner’s needs.”
This ability to devise a new narrative that makes sense of your ups and downs is very empowering.
How long is emotionally focused therapy?
The exact number of sessions varies by the couple, but EFT is about 10 to 20 sessions.
What does emotionally focused therapy for couples look like?
There are various stages involved in emotionally focused therapy:
Here, you and your therapist create a current map of your relationship. What does your pattern look like? How do you deal with conflict, if at all?
Once you have a relationship blueprint, you can dive deep into emotions. Your therapist will encourage you to reveal your feelings with honesty and vulnerability.
Your therapist might also facilitate conversation between you and your partner. Your therapist might point out—in real-time—patterns they see, areas of opportunity, and of course, progress.
This phase is about applying your newfound knowledge and skills. It’s also the period of celebration over your breakthroughs as a couple. From here, you can build a future rooted in empathy and understanding.
These new interactions create a deep, secure bond that pulls your partner in versus old patterns that distance them from you.
What else can I expect to do in emotionally focused therapy?
Although EFT focuses on the here and now, worksheets and exercises outside of sessions can help you make the most out of the intervention.
- Identifying problems and hearing out both sides
- Examining initial reactions and discovering more appropriate responses that are mindful of others’ reactions and feelings
- Emotional mental model – Coming up with hypothetical situations and analyzing how you might feel and how your emotions would affect your actions
- Acceptance – Verbalizing emotions and facts of life that you can learn to accept, e.g. anxiety
- Applying what you learn – Learning how to regulate emotions in the present time
Is emotionally focused therapy effective?
Emotionally focused therapy is known as the most effective form of therapy for couples, and it has the research to support it. Ninety percent (90%) of couples who participate in EFT significantly improve their relationship. And 70-75% of couples no longer fit criteria for what’s considered relationship distress following treatment.
Is emotionally focused therapy right for me and my partner?
If you identify with the following statements, EFT can provide new insight into your relationship struggles:
- I can’t control my emotions
- I struggle to react in appropriate, productive ways
- I struggle to voice my feelings and needs
- I don’t expect my partner to change, so I always react the same
- I’m afraid of being hurt, so I avoid my emotions
- I’m afraid of being disappointed again, so I revert to old emotions without voicing my true feelings and needs
EFT can help address these feelings, and explain how they’re leading to undesired behaviors. Moreover, EFT can bring more satisfaction, intimacy, and trust to your relationship.
If you believe emotionally focused therapy is right for you, our counselors in Berkeley, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, and Palo Alto can offer you the tools and support you need.