EMOTIONALLY FOCUSED THERAPY (EFT)
In my work with couples, I mostly employ EFT as a treatment modality. The main underlying assumptions in EFT are that partners want to feel emotionally closer to each other but also want to protect themselves from emotional pain and vulnerability.
This tension between a need for more closeness and the urge to protect oneself may, for example, yield a so called “pursuer-withdrawer” dynamic where one partner is making great efforts to connect, and the other partner feels under siege and is trying to protect themselves from their partner’s “demands.”
Though couples’ dynamics may follow a certain pattern, like this “pursuer-withdrawer” dynamic, each couple’s dynamic is also unique, as it emerges from the shared experiences of two people with unique psychologies.
CYCLES OF INTERPERSONAL BEHAVIORS
With EFT, the work starts by identifying and clarifying the cycle of interpersonal behaviors that produces the couple’s distress. This cycle is maintained by the distinct perceptions partners have of themselves and of the other.
Such a cycle may start, for example, with something as seemingly innocuous as one partner saying “good morning” to the other.
Already embedded within that simple greeting however, is the entire shared history of the couple’s challenges with closeness.
To the partner who says “good morning,” that greeting may represent yet another attempt to get some attention or affection back from the other. To that other partner however, that “good morning” may sound like an alarm signaling danger – the danger that he may not respond in the way she wants and that she will then get angry and throw his entire day “off track.”
So, rather than run that risk, he decides to “play it safe” and instead leaves the home quietly in order to avoid another argument. That quiet departure is then interpreted by the first partner as confirmation that he doesn’t want to spend time with her or doesn’t care about her.
This is the kind of interpersonal cycle that can escalate and bring great pain to both partners in a relationship.
FINDING NEW WAYS TO COMMUNICATE AND CONNECT
EFT begins with identifying and clarifying what is happening in these interpersonal cycles. During this phase of treatment, I work with each partner in turn while the other listens to what their partner is sharing. Over the course of sessions, I then help the couple try out new ways of communicating and connecting with the aim of dissolving or superseding the prior, painful interpersonal cycles.