Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a scientifically supported approach to therapy with couples. Research indicates that the vast majority of couples who complete EFT improve their relationships, feel closer, and communicate better. Research also shows that marital satisfaction has been linked to better health and wellness, including better immune system functioning, recovery from illness and injuries, and management of stressful situations.
When couples enter therapy, often both partners will say that they feel stuck or misunderstood. Commonly, they say that they don’t feel heard by the other anymore, or that they feel criticized or alone. In spite of their best efforts to make things better, things seem to be getting worse instead of better. They don’t feel as special to each other as they used to, or at least that message doesn’t seem to be getting across anymore. There is increased distance between them.
An Introduction to EFT:
EFT is a three-stage process. In the first stage, the focus is on helping couples to better understand the negative patterns of interacting and communicating that they repeatedly get stuck in. Often there is a “here-we-go-again” quality to how disagreements unfold. The same sorts of disagreements happen again and again. Each person may feel pretty helpless to stop themselves from going down that painful road again. Often, as time goes on, partners will withdraw and distance themselves from each other, rather than trying to keep discussing sensitive issues that never seem to get resolved. In stage one, key goals include helping couples to:
- Better understand negative patterns of communication
- Better understand what underlying feelings feed into conflict
- Experience less conflict
- Experience “more space” to begin to talk more deeply about important topics in the relationship
In the second stage, the focus is on creating new, more effective, and more emotionally satisfying ways of interacting and communicating together. If painful events have occurred over the years that have made it difficult to bridge the gap and feel closer again, then these unresolved issues may be a big part of what is worked through during stage two. In stage two, key goals include:
- Helping each partner to see the other in a different, more understanding light
- Helping each partner to feel more safe and secure in talking about very important things
- Helping couples to feel more bonded and close again, or even closer than they ever have been
- Helping couples to feel that sense of specialness and being valued again by the other that previously might have felt lost
In the third and final stage, the focus is on building upon the gains that have already been made, and applying them directly to more specific issues within the relationship (e.g., finances, parenting, or others) that have traditionally been the most difficult or contentious to discuss. By the end of stage three, key goals include:
- Having a clear sense of the old, negative pattern of interaction and communication, and feeling less vulnerable to fall into it
- Having a clear sense of the new, positive ways of interacting, communicating, and being together
- Feeling confident about having the skills and strategies to help maintain these positive interactions together
- Feeling prepared to end therapy with a hopeful outlook for the future
Research shows that 90% of couples who complete the EFT process report improvement in their relationships. Studies also show that the effects are lasting. That is, couples who work through the three-stage process do not tend to return to their old negative patterns of interacting/communicating. Research further demonstrates that the EFT method is useful for families, as well as for couples in which one or both partners struggles with depression, trauma, anxiety, low sexual desire, and/or other sexual problems.