Here is the basic idea behind Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples: underneath your fights with your partner there is a desire to feel secure in your love.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is a popular approach to couples therapy that has been validated in research. EFT helps couples stop fights and end emotional distance by helping each partner express their important feelings and needs that remain under the surface.
Fights happen because you don’t feel connected
EFT believes that feeling connected to and loved by our partner is a primary need that we all share. When we fight with our partner that feeling of love and connection can disappear. This is scary and alarming!
You can think of a fight like an iceberg; part of it is visible, but the vast majority lies underneath the surface, waiting to be discovered. The topic of the fight is like the tip of the iceberg–whereas underneath are the real issues: “Am I safe with you?” “Am I special to you?” “Will you stick around if we disagree?”
EFT also helps you recognize that if you don’t feel safe in your relationship, there are two main ways you will respond:
Attacking. You get angry, criticize, and raise your voice
Withdrawing. You get quiet, turn away, and give the cold shoulder.
Does this sound familiar? If pursuing or withdrawing is happening in your relationship, don’t be alarmed–it’s normal to deal with relationship tension in these ways. The key is to realize that you really want love and connection with your partner–and pursuing and withdrawing often don’t get you that.
EFT believes that the strategies of pursuing and withdrawing happen within a cycle. When things aren’t going well, your interactions become a negative cycle that can spin out of control. The first step is to identify and name this cycle before it starts eating you up.
Fights are a result of an underlying pattern
A common pattern or negative cycle that people get into is “pursue – withdraw.” The more one person pursues the more the other withdraws. The more one withdraws, the more the other pursues. It’s a dizzying dance.
The key to healing your relationship is to a) identify your cycle, b) learn what you really need, and c) communicate your need in a way that creates connection.
Read last week’s post and consider which of the three negative cycles your relationship tends to fall into when things aren’t going well.
EFT in Action: An Example
Let’s look at a conversation between Monika and Steven to see how EFT can support this relationship:
Monika: Hey babe, what should we cook for dinner?
Steven: (Distracted) Anything is fine
Monika: Forget it. You don’t even care what we eat!
Steven: (Sighs, goes quiet, doesn’t respond)
On the surface, Monika is angry because Steven is distracted about something that is important to Monika—making a delicious dinner together. And Steven seems to go quiet because he feels criticized and hurt.
This understanding is correct–but it’s also incomplete.
Under the surface a different story exists. Monika believes that Steven’s distraction means he isn’t into her at all, that he’s bored by the relationship. And Steven, fearing that Monika’s anger means she’ll leave him, withdraws to protect himself from the pain of feeling this.
This example illustrates why it’s called Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT). It is the underlying emotions (in this case fear) which create conflict or distance.
What will EFT Couples Therapy look like?
Your couples therapist will get a good look at your relationship, and help you figure out what cycle you’re in; and, importantly, how you’re both contributing to the cycle.
Once you understand your cycle, and can name it when it’s happening, your couples therapist will help you interrupt the cycle. Instead of attacking when feeling hurt, you’ll get help slowing down and getting vulnerable, revealing the tender feelings underneath.
And instead of withdrawing, your couples therapist will encourage honesty and openness to reveal what’s really going on for you. You will learn how to open to your partner without also giving up on your own important thoughts and feelings. Moving towards your partner rather than withdrawing helps you avoid becoming a conflict-avoidant couple.
Once you and your partner are great at seeing your negative cycle–and being vulnerable enough to share your real feelings and needs–your relationship can start healing from past wounds.
You will start to create a relationship narrative that makes sense of your ups and downs. You will be on the same page, and be able to tell a beautiful story of understanding, love and connection.
If you think Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples could help your relationship, our couples counselors in Berkeley, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, and Palo Alto can offer you the tools and support you need. We also offer sliding scale options for people with need.
Founder of The Couples Center, Gal has a warm and practical approach that recognizes and honors the best in every person. Gal’s relationship with his wife is the source of inspiration for his commitment to helping couples create thriving relationships. Going through their relationship struggles made him realize how a committed relationship is the most important vehicle for one’s personal growth. Gal has a lifelong dedication to learning and growth and is trained in many different.