Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a research-backed, proven approach to couples therapy. Some people wonder, “why do you emphasis emotion in therapy? Don’t we just need to learn how to communicate better?” Communicating better includes understanding emotion.
The truth is that we send emotional signals all the time. For example, what may to you seem like a neutral expression on your face can be interpreted – or misinterpreted – by someone else as having lots of meaning. If the other person isn’t feeling so close to you, the interpretation often skews toward the negative side of things. The other person may start thinking, “You’re angry at me,” or “You don’t care about what I’m telling you.”
Emotional signals influence how/whether we and our partner feel loved. We need to be conscious of the signals we’re sending and learn how to interpret our partner’s signals. If we don’t, the signals get crossed. The more our signals get crossed, the more our sense of being loved can diminish.
EFT gets under the surface of here-we-go-again fights to discover the underlying emotions that drive our behavior. It helps you understand the negative pattern you get stuck in so you can change to a more positive way of interacting, send clear signals, and increase your sense of love and connection.
The basic tenants of EFT are:
- Everyone has a deep need to belong, to feel closely connected with another person.
- We all experience the concern that the person we love might leave us in some way and/or have experienced the sadness of having been left (divorce, feeling unimportant, feeling alone in dealing with some issue, an affair, etc.). We want to know that the answer to the question, “Are you there for me?” Is, “Yes, I’m here.”
- We often don’t directly express our doubt or concern that our partner will be there for us. Instead we respond in other predictable ways that create conflict:
- pursuing the partner to gain reassurance (When one says things like, “Why didn’t you call me when you knew you’d be late? You know I get worried,” it often feels to the other person more like criticism than a request for information that would calm fears) or
- withdrawing from the partner to mitigate the discomfort of disconnection (when one puts off a conversation or goes for a drive to get away, it often feels to the other person more like not caring than a strategy to avoid making things worse).
- This negative cycle of pursue and withdraw, who does what, is one of the first things we identify in therapy. The words “pursue” and “withdraw” are simply descriptive. One strategy isn’t better or worse than the other. Both are responses to the discomfort of feeling distant from a loved one.
- The problem couples have isn’t usually what they think it is. It isn’t his stressful job or her difficult parents. The problem is how each responds when they feel distant.
- Emotions drive behavior and are a source of information/wisdom that we can access to transform the negative cycle. It’s called Emotionally Focused Therapy for a reason.
- As the relationship becomes more connected, couples more easily interrupt the negative cycle, arguments become less frequent and less severe, and couples and gain confidence that their partner is there for them.
- From a place of connectedness and a new positive cycle, couples can address their issues and find solutions to problems that previously eluded them.
If you want to know more about EFT, get the workbook: Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies by Bradley and Furrow.