Emotionally Focused Therapy EFT
A therapist who does couples therapy requires specific training. I have been trained and continue getting trained in the Emotionally Focused Therapy Model.
Emotionally Focused Therapy is an evidence-based model developed by Susan Johnson. This model is my guide when I work with couples.
Love is a need
The attachment theory developed by John Bowlby says that love is a need we all have and it is as important as eating or sleeping. We feel safe when we have our basic needs met but also when we are "seen", cared and loved by another. We are wired to belong and an adult needs his/her spouse as much as a baby needs his/her mom. In moments of vulnerability, we want to know we can count on our partner.
Pushing each other buttons
Our reactions are informed by our emotions and if someone has influence in our emotions, it is our partner. Our partner can affect our emotions deeply but we also have great influence on their emotions.
When our emotions are triggered, we rarely let our partner know about what we are feeling deep in our heart. We rarely say something like: "When you criticize me, I feel rejected. I fear not being enough for you. Feeling that I might not be enough for you hurts me and I fear you will leave me." This rarely happens.
What do we show our partner? We show them our anger, we yell, we show them our pain in explosive ways; maybe we don't show our pain, show indifference and ignore our partner when in reality we are hurting inside. We don't show them what is underwater. We don't show them our vulnerability and there is a very valid reason to not show our vulnerability. How are you going to show you "emotionally naked" if you don't know if the other one is going to be there for you? Would you jump from a trapeze swing if you were not sure about your partner catching you?
What happens when you see someone you love in pain, for example sick? You see their pain and feel their pain. Their pain affects you. Even if you are angry with that person, seeing them sick hurts you. You know you can't take away their pain but you might hold their hand, let them know you SEE them, let them know they are not alone. These simple gestures are powerful and CALM the other person.
A gesture that indicates to the other one that they are being SEEN by you is one of the best "anti-anxiety pills". Think about a kid who is in a school performance. Think about their mom in audience blowing them a kiss or winking at them, telling them: "It is going to be okay". Those small gestures can be enough to calm someone. You have great influence on your partner. Your presence can calm your partner.
If we yell, demand, or if we stonewall and ignore, it is very difficult for our partner to see our pain and give us what we need (their presence). However, when we talk from our heart it is easier for our partner to listen to us and respond to our emotional needs.
Changing the dance
Couples get caught up in problematic cycles. If you look at the illustration on this page, those two volcanos are in a heated argument and an emotion that is underwater emerges in the shape of eruptions. The other volcano only sees lava and fire. They don't get to see what is really underwater. Their explosive arguments can last for days and they end up farther from each other.
However, if those volcanos were to slow down right before their lava comes up, they would notice which emotion underwater was triggered by the other. The water level would get lower and they would show the other the emotion underneath. They might feel that this experience was very different from their usual arguments, but if they still have hope and love for each other, they would "show up" for the each other.
Practice is the best teacher
EFT is an experiential model. When a couple makes the conscious effort to speak from those emotions underwater, they start experiencing each other in new ways. The more experiences they have where they respond to each other's emotional needs, the more secure they will feel about each other. The more confident they will be about the other catching them when they jump from that trapeze swing.
Couples therapy is not an easy job. It requires you to be honest, vulnerable and put "everything on the table." Often couples who come to see me are on the verge of divorce, have hurt each other emotionally deeply, and have been disconnected from each other for a long time, but they still have care and love for each other and want to give couples therapy a chance.