Emotions Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) is a form of couples therapy that has been created by Sue Johnson. It has a 75% rate of being effective with couples who are not in a domestic violence situation and where both members of the couple want the relationship to work. I practice a modified form of Couples Counseling that is largely influenced by EFT. I am influenced by the basic principles and practices of EFT but my style also incorporates enhanced communication skills and psycho-education concerning what is happening in the relationship.
Working from an EFT (Emotion Focused Couples Therapy) perspective, my job as the therapist is to attend to the emotional bond between the members of the couple. This means that rather than first focus on refereeing your fight (pulling out my score-card for who is the bigger jerk in the relationship), my job is to focus on helping you attend to changing the culture of your relationship. This means moving the dance from being between the two of you to both of you being on the same team. And only AFTER you are on the same team and you being able to know that your partner is REALLY there for you, is it useful to start the traditional conflict resolution strategies.
Basically, I have learned that even if both of you learn to master all of the correct “I feel” statements and perfect strategies at navigating conflict, that your partner (and dare I say ‘you’, at times??) use them against each other. This is the NORMAL response to when you do not feel that you can lean on your partner and be who you are in your partnership.
Often times, it is so easy when our legitimate attachment needs are not being met to take our pain and frustration out on our partner. In order to address this, my strategy is three-pronged. Instead of being a useless referee and telling you what to do, I have a strategic goal for re-establishing your bond that will make it much easier for you to navigate your normal challenges in your relationship.
Stage 1) Moving From Pathologizing Each Other to Pathologizing The Nasty Dance.
For the first 6-8 weeks, I focus on helping the couple pathologize the dance that they are in rather than pathologize each other. This, while sounding simple, is extremely important to establish a sense of “team” rather than allow the current struggle between you and your partner to perpetuate a “me vs. him/her” mentality. This creates the safety for Stage 2 to be possible.
Stage 2) Creating Safety To Be Able To Express Underlying Attachment Longings
In the second stage, for 6-8 weeks, I help one of the dancers in the dance, the afraid one (the one who protects themselves from the pain of the relationship by pulling away), to have their deep desires be understood and empathized with by their partner. In this stage, space is created for the partner, who previously may have been more avoidant of connection, to feel safe expressing previously unexpressable emotional needs. Safety allows for new connecting experiences to be experienced. This makes it so that previous strategies of avoiding connection in order to avoid pain are less necessary.
The second half of the second stage, for another 6-8 weeks, I help the second dancer of the dance, the longing one, (the one who responds to the pain of their needs not being met in the relationship with protest behaviors that their partner finds off-putting at times), to have their deep desires be understood and empathized with by their partner. They get to experience the legitimate underlying longings that they have had for a long time to be authentically validated by their partner. When they are authentically validated, then the “protest behaviors” that result from them not being validated become less necessary.
When both partners are able to express. hear, and empathize with their partner’s real life needs without being shot down, there is a sense of “team” that is unifying that is formed. This restores the bond and creates a different context for the couples to face their real differences.
Stage 3) Negotiating, Compromising, and Coming Up With Real World Solutions To The Real World Problems.
The third stage usually takes 2-4 weeks (with occasional follow-up visits) to negotiate, strategize, and come to compromises on how to deal with the issues and struggles that brought them into therapy in the first place. This stage is rather quick because, with the bond restored, most couples with their own idiosyncratic styles creatively solve their own problems. They do this, without having to rely on the formulaic best practices I’ve helped bring into their relational tool-box along the way, (the “I feel” statements, fair fighting rules, empathic listening skills, psycho-babble, therapy-speak, etc.).
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