Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a model of therapy that was developed by Susan Johnson, Ph.D., for working with couples. Because it is based on attachment theory, EFT recognizes the profoundly deep bonds within even the most conflicted couples. More recently, EFT is also being applied to working with families and individuals as well, since our attachment needs arise in other relationships. Unlike many other approaches to couples therapy that focus on communication skills, negotiation or fair fighting, EFT asserts that most couples could discuss and solve their problems in a way that would work for them, if, and this is a big if, they were able to understand and attend to the underlying attachment needs that have them or their partners so upset, angry, withdrawn or desperate.
The Attachment Needs Merry-Go-Round
So unmet attachment needs are the reason that couples so frequently have the same fights over and over and over again – it’s not the content of the argument that is the issue so much as it is the process, “the dance,” that is the problem. Unknowingly, and usually to emotionally protect themselves from uncomfortable or disturbing feelings from their past, each person is taking certain dance steps that feel safe for them. Unfortunately, those “steps” trigger their partner’s old, unmet, unresolved attachment needs. So while it may seem that you’re arguing over how much something cost or what to do about your child’s academic troubles or the pile of laundry, you’re probably really arguing over whether you feel like your partner’s got your back or whether you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough for your partner. And it’s probably why the argument feels so charged!
Getting off the Merry-Go-Round
Couples who want to get off the Merry-go-Round of having the same fights over and over will find EFT couples work very helpful. First by learning to recognize your cycle and interrupting it, conflict is more easily de-escalated or avoided. Then through deepening the therapy, each member in the relationship is helped to understand their unmet attachment needs and the attachment style they developed as a result which drives their part of the negative cycle/dance. Eventually you can develop compassion for your own and your partner’s vulnerabilities. You become able to address your partner’s underlying attachment needs and to ask for help in meeting your own. This makes the relationship safer, more secure and strong enough to address life’s challenges together.
You can learn more about the EFT model and begin applying it to your relationship by reading Sue Johnson’s book, Hold Me Tight, as well as her newest book, Love Sense. Both are available through Amazon.