Emotionally Focused Therapy – Helping Couples restore Emotional Attachment
What is Emotional Attachment?
“Am I lovable?
Am I worthy of love and care?
Can I depend on my partner to be there when needed?”
These are questions people ask themselves when committing to a close romantic relationship?
Many elements will influence our confidence.
The confidence couples feel within themselves and within their relationship will not only depend on the quality of their own romantic relationship, but will also be influenced by the quality of their parents’ relationship and the care they received from their attachment figures when they were growing up.
Emotional Attachment at the Forefront of Parenting and the Subject of Numerous Research
John Bowlby, a British Psychotherapist back in the 70s originally researched the adaptive behaviors such as crying and searching of infants when separated from their primary caregiver (someone who provides support, protection and care).
Because infants can’t feed or protect themselves, their survival depends upon the care of their caregiver or attachment figure. It was then argued that the main survival strategy of our species is to stay close to our loved ones and that during our evolutionary history, our survival has depended on the ability of infants to maintain proximity to an attachment figure via attachment behaviors.
Furthermore, Bowlby believed that, until infants are able to re-establish emotional and physical connection with their attachment figure, they experience profound despair and depression.
From the ‘Cradle to the Grave’
Decades later, ample research into the nature of romantic relationship has been carried out. Much has been built on from Bowlby’s belief that human experience attachment ‘from the cradle to the grave’.
And it is therefore now well accepted that the same despair is experienced by partners when they are unable to emotionally connect to their partner.
We need loving contact like we need oxygen¹
In this video, Dr. Edward Tronick, Development Psychologist and Dr. Sue Johnson discuss the powerful emotions the child experiences when his mum shows lack of emotional response and the same impact experienced by the partners during a disagreement.
What do People Seek in a Romantic Relationship?
Love, support, safety and connection!
Scientific research validates that humans need to feel connected to a safe partner to confront and endure our pain and this is well documented by Dr. James Coan who has spent the last 10 years researching “Why do we hold hands” www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UMHUPPQ96c
However, how do we express our most vulnerable emotions when we do not feel safe to do so?
It can be daunting, especially when, as a child we weren’t encouraged or there was no one to confine to.
Is there a gender difference in our way of behaving?
Women have generally been permitted to show their vulnerability from an early age. Often they will be the first one to voice that something is wrong in their relationship. They will be more ready to pursue when their needs are not met.
Whereas men, when young often learnt that emotions and vulnerability ‘are not for men’ and tend to withdraw from their emotions. They often go into ‘fixing’ mode, using intellectual skills to ‘sort out’ their partner and the situation.
When couples have a strong emotional bond, they listen to each other with an open heart and mind.
They validate and acknowledge each other and express their thoughts and feelings softly, simply and slowly.²
They are able to bounce back after disagreement and their relationship is not threatened.
So what happens when it all goes wrong?
Often what brings couples to therapy is their endless arguments about everything.
Every discussion escalates into big arguments: money, holiday, parental duties, household chores and finally their lack of intimacy “I can never get it right, can I” says one partner. “Everything I do is never good enough.”
“You don’t understand me. You never talk. You are like a robot. You don’t even see me.” says the other partner.
Couples say they can’t communicate when in fact they are caught in repeating patterns of interaction and become rigid in their position, they lose the initial emotional bond they had for each other. They feel desperately lonely, disappointed and disheartened.
Hold me tight – SEVEN CONVERSATION for a LIFETIME of Love³
In her book ‘Hold me tight’ Dr. Sue Johnson comments that often one of the partners will be feeling rejected, unhappy, abandoned, betrayed, disconnected and lonely and will often say: “My heart is breaking; He/she is never there; Even when he/she is there he/she is never there”.
Whilst the other partner will often feel judged, criticised, rejected and lost, and will often say: “I never get it right or satisfy him/her; I shouldn’t bother. What’s the point? I don’t know what I am feeling anymore. I am lost.”
Or even “I’m amazed that he/she can take something so small and build it so way out of proportion. Everything is such a drama.”
Couples find it hard to believe that over time, they have lost the special attraction they had for each other. They want to regain what they felt at the beginning of their relationship.
Understandably they want to understand what went wrong and want to find ways of repairing their life together. Partners will do anything to get a response from their loved one.
Sue Johnson talks about the 5 steps partners take to reconnect³.
1. They reach and invite connection;
2. They protest and push if they don’t get a response;
3. They turn away and shut down to protect themselves from rejection;
4. They go into melt down and frantic demand;
5. And, finally, in a good relationship, we find a way to turn back and reconnect.
How can Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) help?
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) – Not to be confused with Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping, the psychological acupressure technique – transforms relationships, and restore the emotional bonding partners yearn for.
Emotionally Focused Therapy, developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, has helped thousands of couples to create and strengthen the emotional bond between them by helping them to be open, attuned and responsive to each other.
Regardless of their cultures, religions, backgrounds and beliefs, couples all over the world have been helped by therapists working with Emotionally Focused Therapy.
Research and studies show that 70% of the couples are able to repair and strengthen their relationship and 90% are able to sustain the repair.
EFT helps the logical, more analytic individuals make sense of their emotions, their reactions and how they bond in their romantic relationship.
With EFT, couples learn to navigate their intrapersonal emotions. They also learn to navigate their interpersonal dialogue.
With EFT, couples get to understand how they function. It is not about the content of their arguments; it is not about who is right or wrong; it is not who needs fixing and who doesn’t.
It’s about understanding the way partners interact. It’s about becoming aware of the ways partners move and how their behavior affect each other.
EFT fosters personal growth through secure relationships.
After a few sessions, partners come to understand the impact of their respective actions and start stepping off their dysfunctional way of being with each other.
They start to be open, attuned and responsive to each other. They start creating and strengthening the emotional bond they have lost.
I became instantly passionate about Emotionally Focused Therapy
It made sense in my head and it made sense in my heart. It totally fitted in with the way I was already working with my clients. I immediately saw how my clients would benefit from working at strengthening the emotional bond they once had or creating a new bond.
Now, when I work with Couples, I know I have a secure humanistic frame which allows me to build a stable, warm, safe and supportive base from which they can explore past and present events of their life.
If you feel your relationship would benefit from speaking to a therapist, you can contact me, give me call me on +971 55 732 99 66 or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss your situation.
Over to you.
How do you reconnect with your partner? How do you express your emotions? What do you do when you are stuck? Do you tend to pursue or withdraws? How do you get your partner to react?
We can always learn from others. Feel free to share your experience or share the blog if you liked it.
¹Love Sense – Dr. Edward Tronick, Development Psychologist and Dr. Sue Johnson
²An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us – Kallos-Lilly, Veronica; Fitzgerald, Jennifer
³Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationship – Johnson, Sue