Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT) doesn’t make couples more emotional but rather enables partners to be more effective with their emotions within the relationship. Emotionally Focused Couples therapists ask partners to trust their emotions and tune into their emotional experience rather than focusing only on surface content.
They are encouraged to use that emotional experience as a guidepost to their own and their partner’s relational needs, fears, joys, likes, dislikes, etc. Emotions provide information to make better decisions when responding and making decisions as a couple.
Increasing trust in emotions requires that partners become more self-aware at the emotional level. The more a person trusts his or her emotions, the more effective he or she will be in understanding the relationship and the partner. Often couples can look back on a fight and see their emotions more clearly than they can in the midst of the fight. In an EFT couples session, the therapist reviews the negative cycle repeatedly so both partners can begin to own their emotions in the “dance.”
Emotions communicate what is important and highlight what matters in the moment. For example, if a husband is feeling sad and his partner ignores his sad expression, he may become angry at her. His anger is communicating that his partner is not responding to his sadness but rather than feeling safe, the partner withdraws to self-protect from the anger. The negative cycle begins.
Keeping verbal and nonverbal messages clear and congruent can make a difference in the relationship. If a partner’s face is saying one thing but his words are saying another, the partner won’t trust what he is saying. Couples come into marriage counseling in distress not able to share their deep relationship needs because neither feels safe.
The process of change in EFT is guided by changing the emotional experiences. Rather than expressing anger, the partner vulnerably shares his emotion of sadness or loneliness. The other partner, who withdrew from anger in the past, now responds with empathy when hearing of her partner’s sadness. She can show empathy for his sadness because she feels safe in his vulnerable share.
An EFT therapist sees through an attachment lens and and interprets everything happening between partners as pertaining to how important they are to one another. Attachment theory defines the essential problem of romantic relationship distress as ineffective attempts to meet each partner’s longings for a securely bonded relationship. The EFT therapist provides guidance for a couple to to create new ways of reaching and responding that reshape the attachment bond into one of security and connection.