Turning things around for good.
“We married for a lifetime of love but it wasn’t supposed to work out this way. We’re stuck in the same old fights that never change. I’m lonely. We can’t find a way to get through to each other. Nothing seems to break this cycle we’re in. Nothing helps to fix things.” This is where couples counseling using Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples can help.
Maybe you’ve tried couples counseling or marital therapy before. And you’ve come away with psycho-lingo neither one of you understands. I mean, the therapist said they’ve been married for over 30 years and it worked for them, and they look like they have it all together, and you wonder, “Why isn’t it working for us??” Or the homework was to have a date night. But frankly, you don’t want to have a date night with somebody you’re so pissed-off at.
“My God. It has been 20+ years of this. I have never gotten over what happened. You know, I try so hard and they just blow me off and go to another room. The kids see it. Maybe we can make it until the kids leave for college… but then what? More of the same? Do I really want to live out my years with this person?”
But what if? What if the walls could slowly, slowly come down? That the finger-pointing could finally stop. That the lists of wrongs could be dropped. And give way to listening to each other. Maybe for the first time. What if there could be a softening? To really see him soften. To see her soften. That we could see, both of us, not just the mistakes that we’ve made in this relationship but to share how much we both long to love and be loved. And begin moving towards each other. To create a new safety and security in each other. To begin learning how to take emotional risks with one another again. Opening up those vulnerable parts. And finding in each other the very thing that we need. Love. Once again. And learning in daily practical ways. How to love each other all over again. And then tackling all the day-to-day problems of life together from a strong partnership. What if?
EFT couples counseling will help you address and correct the hard things in your relationship. And I wouldn’t recommend this journey unless I was sure of it. After all, it is banked on solid research from many people that have already travelled the route. Take a look:
“The meta-analysis (Johnson et al, 1999) of the four most rigorous outcome studies conducted before the year 2000, showed a larger effect size (1.3) than any other couple intervention has achieved to date. Studies consistently show excellent follow-up results, and some studies show that significant progress continues after therapy. EFT has a body of process research showing that change does indeed occur in the way that the theory suggests. This level of linkage between in-session process and rigorous outcome measurement is unusual in the field of psychotherapy. Subsequent meta-analyses confirm the efficacy of EFT.
“EFT is the only model of couple intervention that uses a systematic empirically validated theory of adult bonding as the basis for understanding and alleviating relationship problems. The generalizability of EFT across different kinds of clients and couples facing co-morbidities such as depression and PTSD has been examined and results are consistently positive. Outcome and process research addressing key relationship factors, such as the forgiveness of injuries, has also been conducted with positive results. EFT studies are generally rigorous and published in the best peer reviewed journals.” Retrieved from: The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT): https://iceeft.com/eft-research-3/
EFT therapy begins with a thorough assessment of each partner in the relationship. These generally take 4-5 sessions. Assessment is not reports and endless lists of questions. You are both there with me as I ask you about your growing up years, your relationships with parents/caregivers, and your perspective on your current relationship. Then we begin the work.
Before I describe the next part. I want you to understand that the EFT approach does have a clear stage process and road map. However, it’s not a cognitive algorithm of things to do or memorize to get it right. It’s rather a disentangling of the negative cycles or patterns couples fall into. It helps couples establish new steps and moves of connecting with each other on an emotional level. And that’s the place where you become close again and trust again.
The EFT model is a 3-stage process that is a recognizable and experientially felt progression by each partner. Stage 1 is understanding the emotions involved in repetitive negative cycles/fights that formerly got you both stuck. Both of your emotions are equally valid and important and are reframed in context of each other’s behaviors. You’re both getting mad and hurt at what the other one does or does not do.
Have you ever been in couples counseling before where you went through session after session re-hashing the same frustrations and never feeling like you ever “got through” to your spouse? Because, at the same time they were either venting theirs onto you or just withdrawing, sighing and rolling their eyes? That’s exhausting, it’s a waste of time and money and that’s not what we’ll be doing in EFT.
Instead, the first part of couple counseling in stage 1 is about understanding how your behaviors as a couple impact each other’s emotions and actually create negative cycles. For example, he feels constantly criticized by her so he withdraws. But then he accepts his emotions that this hurts because he wishes she would see him trying and that he wants not just her affirmation but to feel closer to her. But he also realizes that when he withdraws he creates the anger and criticism from her that comes his way. At the same time, she recognizes that she comes across critical when in fact she is lonely and wants his emotional connection. And she sees that when she is critical she in turn causes him to withdraw and pull away. And their cycle slows down, they soften toward each other and understand not only their negative impacts on each other but the deeper longings and hurts they both have with each other. Emotional safety with each other begins to emerge and strengthen.
Stage 2 is a continuation where he owns and expresses those feelings of wanting her affirmation, her attention to his efforts, her noticing of his contributions in the relationship and family. He begins sharing these emotional needs with her. That is what she wants – his vulnerability. At the same time she feels more safe sharing with him her emotional needs to be valued, prioritized and heard by him. They begin to learn a combined sharing and keeping each other safe as they share these needs. And they also feel safer and freer to bring up past hurts with one another: Betrayals, lies, distance, abuse, cheating, withholding, loneliness. And they are in a much better place to see how both of their behaviors have impacted and caused emotions back and forth with sometimes soul-shattering effects. And this begins something new: finding restorative healing in each other’s presence to share these feelings.
Stage 3 is about consolidation – now approaching the recurring life dilemmas and challenges the couple faces and finding new solutions together from a secure base with each other in the relationship. Not from the fractured and insecure base of the old negative cycles but from the new secure base they have gained with strengthened emotional connection and bonding with each other.
Of course, there are no guaranteed outcomes in couples counseling but this would be the roadmap clients can expect their therapy to take. The outcomes are always determinant of each partner’s involvement in the process.
One thing I want to leave you with is that the EFT model has also been applied to both individuals who are single adults as well as to family relationships. What this means is that the EFT model can be applied to any individual in their day-to-day relationships with people across their relational network. And more than this, it can also be applied in the parent-child relationships in the family. I personally use the EFT model in my work with parents of young children, older children and teens to improve their relationship with their child in one-on-one interactions.
The one tenant I tell all of my family clients is that the parent-child relationship is a larger therapeutic factor than counseling itself or the therapist. This factor applies easily for the couple to know that the same emotional landscape that they begin to feel and experience in couples counseling with their partner can be applied with their children in the family. This strengthens the marital relationship and strengthens each relationship in the family as well. This robust model provides an opportunity for families to not only connect emotionally and heal past hurts and pains. They grow closer in their current experience and years down the road as well. And they improve their ability to face the challenges that all families experience in their years ahead. The marriage and family being the secure base each family member needs to move out into their world with confidence.
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