“The most successful relationships are the ones with a really low negativity threshold. In those relationships, couples allow each other to complain, and work together to constantly repair the tiny issues between them. In such a case, couples don’t bottle up their feelings, and little things don’t end up being blown completely out of proportion” (Hannah Fry , 2015, The Mathematics of Love).

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

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EFT-C is an evidence based Couples Therapy treatment approach that was developed in Canada by Clinical Psychologists Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg. The approach has been researched thoroughly over the past 20 years with lasting outcomes of reduced distress in 75 to 80% of couples over an 8 to 20 session period (This timeframe varies from one couple to the next, and will be longer with childhood trauma).

EFT-C has a focus on creating an environment that is safe between the couple. It aims to understand the negative relationship cycles that long-term partners can find themselves in (attack/criticise - defend/withdraw). It is a non-blaming approach that facilitates awareness and ownership of behaviours, identifies hidden emotional experiences and thoughts, has a goal of reconnection, and can repair relationship ruptures.

EFT-C is based on Attachment Theory, which was developed by John Bowlby over 60 years ago. He emphasised the need for human beings to feel attached and be comforted by significant others. A child becomes distressed when his/her parent does not respond. This signal is a survival mechanism. The child becomes comforted and soothed when the primary caregiver is responsive and provides love, comfort, support and protection. The same relationship patterns have now been shown to occur among couples. We can soothe and comfort each other, as well as trigger intense distress and disconnection.

Problems arise when we are unavailable to each other during times of vulnerability and threat, leading to states of disengagement and distance from one other, as well as critical attack and fighting. Primitive fear/ survival pathways of the brain become activated. An intensely distressed experience can result which may escalate into unbearably painful feelings. This may occur through arguments, criticism, jealousy, sex, money, control strategies and other issues. Our attachment needs to feel close and supported become unmet and loneliness prevails. Difficulty with trust, expressing our emotions and asking for the comfort and security that we need can play a contributing role.

If these behaviours are maintained over long periods of time, they can become rigid and repetitive. A circular, negative spiral can become increasingly hurtful, traumatising and unbearable. It is these patterns that we unpack in EFT-C and facilitate change into positive cycles in which couples feel heard, respected, supported and comforted. Couples learn how to ask for what they need and want from their partners, and to tune into their partner’s emotional experiences and express their own, within a safe environment. The primary needs of responsiveness and feeling close and secure can then be found from each other.

Painful hurt and wounds can be healed within a safe environment. Less defensiveness and increased openness to each other allows deep emotions to be accessed, expressed and transformed. Problem-solving becomes more collaborative and compromise easier. A togetherness is formed, a strong base to navigate any of life’s difficulties that may arise in the future.

Further Information

Recommended Books

An Emotion Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us, Kallos Lilly and Fitzgerald
Love Sense, Sue Johnson
Hold Me Tight, Sue Johnson
7 Principles of Making Marriages Work, John Gottman
Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
Back from Betrayal, Jennifer Schneider

Websites

Contra-indicators

If safety is unattainable in the sessions due to ongoing verbal aggression, accusations, intimidation or contempt towards a partner, EFT-C is not going to be effective, and will be discontinued. If repeated and severe incidences of verbal or physical abuse are ongoing at home, EFT-C is also contra-indicated and will be ceased. An alternative therapeutic approach will be recommended.

EFT-C is not effective if involvement in an affair is ongoing once therapy has begun.

Emergency and Support Services

Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636