Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: The Most-Effective Approach
When couples come to their initial Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy session, they may bring with them a range of emotions: Fear that therapy won’t help, pain and hurt from arguing and/or great disconnection and a concern that the therapist won’t understand their unique situation.
What we want to share with you is the powerful and science-based elements of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. My hope is that you will gain a greater understanding of:
- What to expect when you come for help
- The different components of this most-successful approach for helping couples
- The role of the couples therapist in facilitating couples in reconnecting, retaining trust and experiencing joy and hope again together.
We know from research that couples can postpone coming to couples therapy for years. We realize, as well, that coming to therapy feels intimidating for some and totally foreign for others.
By having a greater understanding of this highly successful and research-supported method, our intent is to ease your concerns with insight into how Emotionally Focused Couples therapists help you rekindle closeness and develop an even greater openness and connection than before you came to counseling.
Non-Blaming, Non-Judging Are Built into this Leading Approach
First, you’ll learn therapists trained in this method do not blame either partner. Rather, we help you understand the “negative cycle” that has developed between you (as you’ll learn below). Yes, there might be actions in the relationship that you regret — that were hurtful to your partner — but often these began with and were worsened by, the negative cycle.
Second, therapists do not take sides with one partner over the other. The method doesn’t allow us to — and nor would we want this to occur! We respect the position and concerns of each partner, and constantly seek to understand your feelings and your perspectives. We honor each partner’s strengths and preferences.
Third, we don’t judge, advise or suggest what you should do. Rather, we help you achieve a greater and deeper understanding of each other so you can successfully collaborate together on decisions and choices.
Fourth, and this is important, our approach in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is one of gentle understanding and respect. We work to establish a comfortable environment for you both to be open with each other and work through important, and at times, sensitive concerns.
The ‘Gentle Power’ of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy
It’s not unusual for couples to feel both mystified — and baffled — that their once-loving relationship or marriage has become so distant, possibly contentious and filled with hurt feelings.
“We don’t know what happened to us — we argue nonstop, sometimes say hurtful things to each other when we’re angry and nothing ever gets resolved.”
“Sex was something that was so enjoyable and kept us close. Now, we are rarely intimate and we’re lost how to get connected again.”
“We used to argue. Now, it’s silence. We’re both walking on eggshells with each other. We’re stuck!”
At the heart of the problem is the fraying of the bond you created when you fell in love.
In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, we call the arguing and/or distancing a “negative cycle.”
Typically, at some point, there would be an event or series of hurtful experiences with each other. Unfortunately, we’re not all that skilled in letting our partner know that we feel hurt. The unresolved concerns can build over time. We become anxious, angry, demanding or withdrawn.
Couples find they may argue more, but talk less about important issues. Intimacy often declines because the emotional connection has frayed and impacted the desire for physical connection.
Over time, resentments build. The negative cycle has become your enemy (though it may appear that your partner is at fault, but, remember, the cycle is what is devastating your connection).
During the first sessions of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy we’ll learn to understand your negative cycle. Many couples are relieved very early in the process to learn that their cycle is manageable and that relief is possible.
How We Love
One of the powerful strengths of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is its focus on helping couples understand the “science of love” — attachment.
Simply defined, attachment is the emotional bonding we experience with those most close and significant to us.
Our first bonds were with our parents or significant caregivers. Then, when we met our partner, he or she became the most important person to us. We are excited to see our partner and miss them intensely when we are apart.
In healthy relationships, our partner becomes our safe haven in the world: the person who can comfort us when we’re distressed, who gives us encouragement and support and with whom we uniquely share joy and delight.
Humans, over time, became hard-wired to bond with another. When couples are not getting along, the bond is threatened and frayed. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy helps couples renew their bond and regain emotional connection.
The Powerful “Emotionally Focused” Component of this Approach
So, you can see how attachment produces intense emotions with our partner. The bond is as vital to us as air and water. When we don’t feel close, we become anxious, angry, aloof or withdrawn.
In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy we help couples understand their deeper emotions which lie beneath the ones our partner sees. For example, when we are angry with our partner, we may actually feel hurt about something or afraid or anxious of being more distant. Yet, our partner only sees the anger.
By learning to speak from those deeper, more authentic emotions, couples can learn to:
- Help their partner know how much they mean to us
- Calm the discussion so issues can be resolved
- Reinforce the attachment emotional bond
A New Way to Communicate
Quite often when a couple first contacts us they will say, “We just don’t know how to communicate.”
Formerly, couples counseling’s focus was only on helping couples have better conversations. In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, we help you improve your connection (vastly!), however from a deeper, more lasting perspective.
One of the most powerful components of this method are “enactments.” You’ll learn, in sessions, to turn to your partner and speak from your deeper emotions. A new level of meaning is the key to rebuilding connection and (finally!) resolving important concerns.
As you practice with your therapist, you both learn to use this new approach on your own.
The negative cycle often has its roots in a hurtful event where you didn’t feel understood, supported or comforted by your partner. The wound of an infidelity also has a profound impact on connection.
When the negative cycle is under better control, the therapist gently guides you toward healing any wounds, including ones that may have happened years ago. Without this healing, the issue can be brought up repeatedly — often during a negative cycle — and the hurt continued.
No, we can’t undo the hurtful event; however, apology and forgiveness are powerful when sincerely offered.
Staying Close Going Forward
Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy has the lowest “relapse rate” of couples-therapy approaches. This means that couples who complete the process tend to maintain the gains they’ve made — resolving differences calmly, supporting each other, parenting successfully, a renewed and stronger bond and improved intimacy.
Couples also learn how to make their partner a priority. They learn to establish a ritual of spending meaningful time together (and modeling a secure relationship bond to their children!).
To learn more about how this approach can help your communication and deepen your understanding of each other, click here Communication in Relationships and how anger develops and can be reduced in the negative cycle, click here How to Control Anger in Your Relationship.