Your Therapy

Emotion Focused Therapy For Couples Can Improve Relationships

For therapists, counselling romantic couples is complex, but also immensely rewarding. The complexity comes from having to follow two individual narratives, and the intersection between them. However, when one person can share their vulnerable emotions and needs, and have their partner accept these, it’s truly transformative. Many emotional wounds can be healed by addressing these underlying attachment or identity needs, leading to a more supportive and loving relationship.

One way that we at Your Therapy work with romantic partners is a form of therapy called Emotion Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT-C ), which provides a proven framework for healing relationship challenges. EFT-C targets the emotional bond between partners, and restructures this bond by changing the interactional emotional experience. Initially, the therapist works with clients to create an alliance. We identify each client’s pain, and relate it to connectedness or identity needs. Next, we try to deescalate the negative cycle the couple brings to therapy. The third phase of treatment involves accessing each partner’s underlying feelings. Next, we work on restructuring the couple’s interaction and bond, while the fifth, and final phase of treatment is about consolidating gains.

The process for identifying the negative cycle a couple brings to therapy involves naming what each partner says and does during a difficult interaction. Negative cycles are related to the domains of closeness/distance or leading/following. And people often use protective emotions like blame, contempt, resentment and withdrawal to mask vulnerable emotions such as shame, fear, loneliness, sadness and empowered anger. Couples typically argue about the negative cycle without naming and addressing their underlying needs for security, closeness, responsiveness, agency and self-esteem. In EFT-C, each partner explores their emotional sensitivities, and how these sensitivities are connected with their personal history. Partners are asked about vulnerable emotions that are difficult to share. Change happens when one person shares their vulnerable, underlying experience, leading their partner to perceive them differently. This process of revealing—rather than blaming—leads to more caring responses from a partner.

Once couples begin to approach and allow vulnerable emotions, the therapist coaches them on ways to avoid triggering difficult states in each other. Partners learn to support one another, to shift from protective stances and to take breaks to calm. Partners are encouraged to provide space and time to determine their inner state. Finally, couples practice new, positive ways of interacting that were previously blocked. There are some times when EFT-C isn’t appropriate, including on-going violence or abuse, active addiction or on-going affairs. However, partners with past emotional injuries often respond well to EFT-C, though the process is slightly different.

Ultimately, EFT-C offers a proven, systematic approach that can reduce distress and conflict in loving adult relationships, while increasing tenderness and security. In the words of Lao-Tzu, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Emotion Focused Therapy for Couples can help partners attain their heartfelt needs.

Kathy Netten is a registered social worker and psychotherapist who specializes in seeing children, teens, and adults. Kathy’s practice is informed by strengths based practices to support individuals with anxiety, depression, parenting, trauma, grief, and bereavement.

Your Therapy is a safe, welcoming, counselling therapy practice in the Greater Toronto Area. Thanks for reading and, as always, please feel free to reach out with questions about talk therapy or other mental health issues. We offer depression therapy, anxiety therapy and more.

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