In the first few EFT sessions, after we determine the therapist and the couple are a good fit, we set goals for counselling. Each of you needs to feel heard by your therapist and trust that the therapist will be unbiased throughout the process. Along with developing a good working relationship, we’ll examine some of the ways your relationship history affects your relationship now.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy focuses on tracking the interaction patterns between the two of you. For example, what are each of your typical behaviours and reactions when you’re in relationship distress? Does one of you tend to bring up the issues while the other tends to be defensive? Does one of you tend to minimize? These outward behaviours and expressions of distress are patterns that need to be acknowledged before they can be replaced with more loving, affirming interactions.
Additionally, we want to find out what’s happening inside of each of you when your relationship is struggling. We will ask both of you: what are the deeper underlying feelings that haven’t been expressed? Usually, these feelings come from a place of loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, and fear, emotions that are a part of the human experience. The therapist will help each of you bring these vulnerable emotions to the surface.
Once you are able to focus on the patterns that get you stuck and how each of you unwittingly contributes to the spiral of disconnect, you will be ready to go deeper. You will begin to share more honest communication about how the presenting issues—like arguments or pulling away from each other—are caused by deeper underlying emotions. Sharing your vulnerabilities authentically with your partner often invites them to have more empathy, compassion and support for you.
EFT couple therapists encourage partners to make risky statements such as, “Outside I look and act angry and focus on you, but inside and down deep I actually feel very little and fragile, especially in this relationship with you. You are so important to me and I truly depend on your good will and positive impression of me.” When such statements are said with emotional authenticity, partners are invited to respond with sincere empathy and compassion.
Emotionally Focused couple therapists rely on a great deal of validation. Partners who feel validated and heard are often willing to delve deeper into feelings of loneliness and fear of abandonment. Both partners are validated, not one over the other.
Unlike other therapies, EFT uses an experiential approach—utilizing observation and experience—for couples to repair the attachment that has been severed or frayed between them. EFT therapists ask partners to turn to each other and very directly share with their partners what they first unpacked with the therapist. This is challenging task for many because it’s sometimes easier to unpack one’s interior life with a therapist than it is with a significant other. And yet the EFT research has shown time and time again that it’s the interactions between partners in a therapy session that lead to lasting change.
Immersing yourself in EFT will help you not only in the relationship with your spouse or partner, but also with your children, co-workers, and family members. At the same time, Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples takes commitment—it is not an easy, 3-session miracle cure. But your relationship is worth the time, energy and commitment. Working through the process will give you a way of living in the world that provides you protection against the uncertainty of life.