Brisbane City Psychologists Couples Counselling

How EFT Couples Therapy Works by Sarah Skellern

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is a structured approach to couples therapy with over 25 years of research supporting its effectiveness. Some studies find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements in marital satisfaction. The results appear to last, even with couples who are at high risk for divorce (Johnson, 2011).

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for Couples

EFT was formulated in the early 1980s by Professors Susan Johnson and Leslie Greenberg. The EFT approach to couples’ therapy prioritises building strong and secure connections between partners first and foremost. It is supported by John Bowlby’s famous attachment research in which he showed that humans have an innate need to feel attached and comforted by a few special irreplaceable others. The goal of EFT is to help couples create a secure attachment. This means not only having a close, safe and loving bond together, but also an increase in coping and overall stress management for each individual. Securely attached people navigate the trials of life with greater ease than those who are insecurely attached. There is nothing like knowing that a precious loved one has your back to help you to face what life throws at you.

Three Types of Destructive Cycles in Relationships

Often when a couple comes to therapy they are locked into a rigid set of patterns in the way they interact with each other.
  • Some couples find themselves often falling into angry blaming, attacking and accusing each other.

  • Other couples find themselves in the much more common ‘demand – withdraw’ pattern. This is where one partner is demanding and protesting the lack of connection, and the other is withdrawing and quietly protesting the implied criticism.

  • For other couples there is a third pattern still, where both partners feel very distanced and withdrawn from each other, and no-one is attacking or protesting a lack of connection at all. In this pattern things can all feel very polite and peaceful between the partners, but often a lack of emotional connection of any kind, positive or negative.

How Does EFT Work?

In the early stages of therapy, the focus is on these repetitive negative cycles of interaction that couples get caught in. One partner’s best attempts to get emotional needs met unfortunately can trigger the other to react defensively, creating distance and pain, rather than closeness and emotional safety. Most couples know their “negative cycle” very well and often feel helpless to stop the cycle from spinning.EFT is a non-blaming, gentle approach to couple distress. It validates each partner’s perspective and helps them to send and receive clear emotional signals regarding their needs and fears. Instead of simply working on communication skills that can sometimes feel like a “band aid” to the situation, EFT aims to help couples to see their negative cycle and to instead send clear messages in ways that do not trigger the fears and defences of their partner. EFT goes to the heart of the matter by uncovering the deeper needs and fears that often go unheard and by helping partners express these deeper feelings to each another. This is how each couple can create a new positive cycle of connection, safety and security.

Forget About Learning How To Argue Better or Learning New Sexual Positions

Sue Johnson, the founder of EFT, says that

“The message of EFT is simple: Forget about learning how to argue better, analysing your early childhood, making grand romantic gestures, or experimenting with new sexual positions. Instead, recognise and admit that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and protection. EFT focuses on creating and strengthening this emotional bond by identifying and transforming the key moments that foster an adult loving relationship.” Dr Sue Johnson.

Is EFT For Me?

EFT is for all individuals and committed couples, whether heterosexual, same-sex, monogamous or non-standard. We assist people struggling with relationship distress, sexual dysfunction, recovery from affairs; as well as family conflict or disconnection. EFT has enormous value for helping families strengthen their attachment bonds and move through conflict.

Johnson, S.M (2011) Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationships. Little, Brown Book Group.