What is EFT in couples therapy?

What is EFT | Dragonfly Psychological Services

EFT is short for emotionally-focused therapy. EFT is based in attachment theory, which talks about the bonds we make in infancy between baby and caregiver, that wire the brain in ways that remain stable throughout the lifespan.  In adult romantic relationships, we often replicate the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that began in infancy. We all need nurturing, soothing and protection and innately seek this in our romantic partner.  In EFT, the focus is on creating and reinforcing the emotional bond in romantic adult relationships by identifying and transforming the key moments which provide opportunities to stimulate growth.

Even in the face of significant stress, EFT has shown to be 70-75% successful in helping couples and is recognized by the American Psychological Association as empirically proven.


Who can benefit from Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Of course, any couple who finds themselves in a crisis with their partner can benefit from EFT. When emotional wounds are fresh and painful from a recent argument or increasing dissatisfaction in the relationship, it’s a great time to get started. That way, you and your partner can use this situation to learn the ropes of healthy and helpful communication with each other.

However, it is also wise for couples to learn about the core concepts of Emotionally Focused Therapy, to take a proactive approach to preserve the love and harmony they are currently experiencing. By taking the proactive approach to EFT with your partner, you are acknowledging that a crisis or hardship in your relationship is inevitable, and you are willing to invest your time in getting ahead of the issues before you become sidelined by them.  If you are a couple that is in good shape with your connection, it makes sense to take steps to preserve the great relationship you have going.

How is EFT typically taught to couples in therapy?

Emotionally focused therapy begins with decoding the cycles each couple finds themself stuck in at times. Once clients can notice and interrupt those cycles, we begin to work on developing a deeper understanding of their emotions and sharing them with each other. By identifying emotional needs and explaining them constructively in conversation with our partner, clients can become more emotionally intimate with their partner. Overall, the goal of EFT is to empower couples to communicate their deepest feelings to their partner so that both can get their emotional needs met and build on the strength of the relationship. 

There are some key steps that an EFT therapist will guide their clients through to help facilitate a constructive session for both parties: 

1.) The first step is to identify destructive, negative perceptions or behaviors that get in the way of hearing what each other are actually trying to convey. With this step in place, the therapist helps the couple communicate without causing more emotional wounds in the process. 

2.) Once a couple can communicate safely, the next step is to learn and accept that behind all immediate and impulsive reactions, there is a deeper emotional meaning. 

3.) With their emotional guard down and a new understanding of compassionate communication, the couple can revisit an old argument. With a therapist’s help, they can learn to de-escalate conflicts and begin to repair each other’s emotional wounds by building emotional safety within the conversation

4.) Once couples establish a safe method for discussing heavy emotions without hurting each other, they become more accessible, deeply engaged, and emotionally responsive with one another.

5.) Now it’s time for some healing as both parties learn to forgive past wounds. Though forgiveness is helpful, the pain does not simply disappear. Couples need to learn to integrate injuries into their healing conversations and use them to demonstrate bonds of renewal and connection.

6.) With new breakthroughs in emotional connection and responsiveness, the couple can now explore conversations about sexual bonding and physical touch. The healthy cycle of increased emotional bonding continues to reward the couple with better sex through emotional bonding while deepening the connection to each other emotionally, as well as sexually.

7.) In the final step, the therapist helps the couple build on the understanding that love is a process of losing and finding emotional connection. Couples are taught to be mindful and deliberate about maintaining their new and constantly reinforcing bond.

What Do Couples Take Away from EFT?

  • A richer understanding of themselves and their partner
  • A deeply held belief that they are important to and loved by their partner
  • A realization of the power they hold to impact their partner’s feelings
  • Ways to recognize and interrupt difficult cycles of conflict
  • A secure bond with an accessible, responsive, and engaged partner

What is the overarching insight behind Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Some of the best insights we can take from Emotionally Focused Therapy is that our need for emotional connection and attachment is not superficial or “needy.” Instead, our drive for emotional connection and togetherness is as crucial as oxygen.

Science understands that our need for connection and bonding with others stems from our birth and the need never becomes lessened as we age. In fact, it has already been proven that isolation is dangerous to the state of our mental health, and ultimately our physical wellbeing.  It is now time for society to embrace this scientific insight and use it to strengthen and repair the relationships that mean the most to us. If you are hoping to have more loving, engaging, and intimate connection with your significant other, Emotionally Focused Therapy is a wise way to start.


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