An example of a popular relationship problem often seen in couples therapy, and how an emerging treatment might be the perfect solution.
A middle-aged couple comes in for treatment because they’re constantly fighting and not having sex. The wife also recently had an extramarital affair. Communication seems to have broken down and they are eager for some kind of solution.
The therapy treatment:
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an increasingly popular and evidenced-backed option to successfully treat couples with these kinds of issues. Treatment usually consists of a short term engagement of between ten and twenty sessions. Research has shown that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and up to 90% show significant improvements.
The nine steps to EFT for couples:
- Ascertain the problems that brought the couple for treatment and the patterns that emerge when discussing these issues. An assessment is an important first step in establishing the core problems of the relationship.
- Identify the negative interaction cycle(s) - find out the actual problem that causes any detachment and distress between the couple.
- Explore each partner’s feelings related to that interaction cycle - recognize what each individual is personally feeling in order to better determine what might have gone unnoticed collectively.
- Rephrase the problems in terms of each partner’s emotional experience - personalizing the problem in terms of the couples emotions and needs is important.
- Help both partners better understand their own wants and needs as individuals - by promoting a better understanding of the self, the couple can incorporate this into understanding each other.
- Encourage both partners to accept the other’s emotional experience - promote the support of each individual’s changes in experience and behavior.
- Help both partners express their wants and needs appropriately and facilitate a more positive interaction cycle - couples typically participate in a bonding exercise at home after this step is done.
- Come up with new solutions to the problems that brought the couple for treatment - perhaps a couple uses one specific outlet to always express their anger. By communicating and addressing each issue individually, problems will not build up at once.
- Consolidate the new interaction cycle - EFT requires a bit of work outside of the therapists office. New positions and behavior cycles will take some time and hard work to develop.
EFT in practice:
The therapist will help the couple identify the negative interaction cycle that they have played out. In this case, the husband would reach out to the wife in some way and, when she did not react the way he wanted, he would become critical and aggressive, and she would withdraw.
Under the therapist’s guidance, they each recognize that the husband felt rejected and helpless, and the wife felt afraid and overwhelmed. Each partner explores how these emotional experiences had originally developed and what they are looking for in the relationship, and they are able to express this to each other in a productive way.
With the therapist’s help, they acknowledge where the other partner is coming from and validate their emotional experiences, brainstorming solutions to their problems that satisfy both partners. By recognizing the emotions underlying their partner’s behaviors, they are able to change their own reactions and create a new, healthy interaction style.
Gaining momentum in the psychotherapy world, Emotionally Focused Therapy is being used in a broad range of applications. If you have questions about this approach, or would like to schedule a free consultation in one of our two New Jersey locations, please don't hesitate to reach out. We are happy to answer any and all questions.