Should I Try EFT For My Relationship?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated August 1, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you been experiencing arguments in your relationship and wondering if emotionally focused therapy or EFT therapy could be the kind of therapy that tends to help? If so, you may have come across emotionally focused therapy (EFT). The EFT process focuses on emotional bonds and a structured approach to attachment disorders and distress in relationships. Sessions with a trained therapist in EFT can help couples and families learn more about their inner child, emotional regulation, behavior patterns, bonding interactions, and emotions in relation to their partner.

Can Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Help Us Reconnect?

What's EFT Couples Therapy?

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a form of short-term therapy designed to help address problems in adult relationships. It's based on research that has studied how adults love and form emotional bonds. EFT tends to also be quite expansive, and one can use techniques from EFT for family therapy, couples therapy, or just for people who want to improve their intimate relationships. Emotionally Focused couples therapy tends to work well for couples trying to overcome obstacles and for couples who are functioning but want to strengthen their bonds and understand one another better. EFT for couple therapy is sometimes called emotionally focused couples therapy. 

Emotionally focused therapy is not a form of individual therapy; it’s intended for couples and families. It can be used as a form of short-term therapy, or it can be used for the long term as well, depending on the needs of the individuals involved.

The goal of EFT is to help individuals in relationships to establish a stronger bond and take the parts about each other they like and reinforce them. The ultimate goal of EFT in couples therapy is to help bring a couple together with a better connection and more secure attachment than they had before.

Emotionally Focused couples therapy tends to focus heavily on adult attachment needs and the many kinds of reactions to emotion and distress.

For example, an adult with an anxious attachment style may feel anxiety or depression when they sense their partner is distant. A partner with an avoidant attachment style may have substantial body sensations of fear or disgust when others try to connect to them. These responses are purely responsive and can be worked on through the couples therapy process or via emotionally focused couples therapy. 

History Of EFT Therapy For Couples

Dr. Sue Johnson, a Canadian psychologist, originally developed EFT. In the 1980s, she developed it to help couples, and many therapists use it today in hospital clinics, regular one-on-one practice, and university training centers for psychology students. Sue Johnson also founded ICEEFT, or the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Developed in 1998, ICEEFT helps train therapists in EFT through Johnson’s research.

Johnson wanted her technique to focus on the emotions of her clients in their day-to-day life. In interventions at the time, particularly those in relationships, the emotions felt by a couple were often ignored. Instead, more logical choices were presented. While logic can be important, the emotional experiences a couple feels are considered even more important, and the goal is to let couples feel them.

A related but different form of therapy is emotion-focused therapy (also called EFT), developed by Dr. Robert Elliot and Dr. Leslie Greenberg. Emotion focused therapy focuses on individuals and the dynamics of emotion. This type of individual therapy may help people understand their emotions and discern what emotional responses may improve their lives. Emotion-focused therapy can also be used with couples and families.

Principles Of EFT

One theory used in EFT is attachment theory. Attachment theory states that a person can be healthier by being emotionally attached to someone, fulfilling their need for safety and a safe connection. 

EFT is also based on the idea that fear of being abandoned can cause arguments and emotional distress in intimate relationships. When someone fears they will be abandoned, they may have an intense emotional response, and the unmet attachment needs can make them respond in a way that just makes the problem worse. When both parties can't meet their own needs emotionally, this can lead to emotional disconnection and make the problem much worse, and they can become stuck in the same negative patterns. It can be a self-destructive cycle that reinforces negative behaviors, especially if neither party can express their emotions well due to not having a secure attachment.

Another principle of emotionally focused couple therapy is the idea that couples fight due to their insecurities. For example, someone who has insecure attachment issues may ask their partner over and over again if they truly love them, or if they can trust their partner. This can make their partner annoyed and feel like they aren't trusted, which can create relationship distress and unhealthy emotional responses.

EFT for couples aims to help those who are experiencing insecurities about themselves and have unmet attachment needs, as well as those who are having problems interacting with their partner in a way that is loving and emotionally connected, ultimately aiming to help them create a secure attachment bond. 

Another principle of emotionally focused couples therapy comes from person-centered therapy. Developed by Carl Rogers, person-centered therapy typically aims to provide unconditional positive regard and give people more self-understanding. They talk to a therapist, and the therapist listens as empathetically as they can. 

The EFT model also expands on person-centered therapy techniques and focuses on the theory of adult bonding and adult love. This can help a couple understand one another's emotions and strengthen their attachment even in the face of relationship distress. Often, a couple in an intimate relationship has a problem understanding their underlying emotions, and EFT can often help with that and create a safe bond and secure connection.

How An EFT Couples Therapy Session Works

EFT has nine different steps used to treat people. The first four steps typically involve looking at a couple’s interaction patterns or how a couple interacts. Then, for steps five through seven, the couple and the therapist work together to find better ways to form stronger bonds. The remaining steps typically focus on taking those changes and making them even stronger by reinforcing healthy communication patterns. 

As a session begins, the couple may learn how to de-escalate a fight. When a fight is going on, emotions are typically flying high, but a couple can learn how to put their emotions aside for when this happens. There can be a healthy way to experience emotional disconnection, and that’s if it’s voluntary and serves to de-escalate conflict—not add to it by stonewalling.

As both individuals learn more, they can figure out how to manage their problems and express their feelings that conflict covers up. When a conflict or heavy emotional experience arises, there may be problems with trust. By facing these problems head-on, they can learn compassion and create bonds that are deeper. In the final stages, the therapist can help the couple find attachment problems and bond further.

For EFT to be a success, a couple usually needs to experience a changed pattern of interaction. Let's look at the three stages and see how this typically works.

Therapy Stage One

Stage one of the three stages is known as cycle de-escalation. Step one of this stage usually involves finding the key concerns the couple may have. Step two then looks at how negative interaction patterns can make the problem worse. In step three, the therapist typically identifies the fears and other underlying emotions that are related to the patterns of negative interaction. In the fourth step, the therapist can take key issues from the negative cycle and reframe them in a way that shows the couple's needs and underlying fears so that new interaction patterns can be formed in the next stage.

Therapy Stage Two

The second stage tends to focus on changing interaction patterns. Restructuring interactions begins with step five, in which the therapist typically helps the couple talk about their underlying emotions and attachment problems. In the next part of the change process, step six involves coaching partners to be able to accept one another for their needs. Step seven typically involves the couple learning a new way to discuss key concerns that does not involve the underlying emotions.

Therapy Stage Three

Stage three, or the final stage of emotionally focused couple therapy, is known as consolidation and integration. It begins at step eight. This step typically involves teaching the couple how to communicate in a new style to help create new solutions to old problems. In the final step, step nine, the couple can learn how to practice these techniques outside of their sessions and make a better plan to interact.

What About EFT For Families?

As mentioned above, EFT can help families to repair family bonds as well, and it works the same way—by utilizing the three stages and nine steps to identifying the hidden emotions family members may have, (e.g., a parent fearing the loss of their child, a child being jealous of their siblings). By identifying these emotions in family therapy, emotionally focused family therapy may help a family communicate in much healthier ways and improve emotional control. It can be especially helpful when there is a big change in the family, such as a move, a child becoming a teenager, and so on.

Try Couples Therapy

Can Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Help Us Reconnect?

If you and your partner would like to try EFT or couples therapy in general, you can search for a local therapist experienced in this type of therapy. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a therapy office, you might consider online couples therapy, which research has shown to be just as effective as in-person couples therapy. With BetterHelp, you can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home or anywhere with an internet connection. You can connect with your therapist via phone, videoconference, or in-app messaging. 

If you’re experiencing concerns about your relationship, you don’t have to face them alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist experienced in EFT and other modalities for couples. Take the first step toward a healthier relationship and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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