Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) is among the most effective and well-respected approaches to marriage counseling.

But you may wonder:

  • What exactly is EFT?
  • How does it work?
  • And what scientific basis does it have?

All important questions to answer. Let’s consider them one at a time:

What Is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Grounded in science, emotionally focused couples therapy focuses on two concepts:

  1. love as an attachment bond
  2. negative communication patterns

An attachment between people provides comfort and security against stress. It allows people to feel safe so they can explore and learn new things.

Attachment begins in childhood with a parent or other primary caretaker. The patterns established in childhood carry over to adulthood. Just like a distressed child with an “unavailable” parent, an adult with an “unavailable” partner feels distress.

Marriage counselors can use emotionally focused couples therapy to map the emotions, needs, and distress felt by partners. With time, couples learn to be emotionally available to each other and to feel and show empathy.

This is especially helpful for relationships where one or both partners suffer from depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, or chronic illness. It will help them learn to substitute healthy patterns for counterproductive reactions and can transform their whole relationship.

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?

Meeting Emotional Needs

EFT intervenes to address emotional responses to deeply rooted fears of abandonment that can harm the partners and strain the relationship.

Partners who are unable to meet each other’s emotional needs become stuck in negative patterns of communication and interaction. Questions like “Do you really love me?” or “Can I trust you?” reflect insecurities that EFT treats.

With emotionally focused couples therapy, partners learn to interact in more loving, responsive, and emotionally connected ways. The result is a more secure attachment.

Replacing Negative Patterns

EFT helps couples learn to de-escalate conflict and discuss deep feelings. These skills help the partners gain a better self-understanding.

Promoting healthy dependency and expanding the emotional responses of partners helps to build new interactions that replace negative patterns. For example, a couple may have fallen into a pattern where one partner pursues while the other withdraws. Or one partner may criticize while the other defends.

When couples can identify the attachment issues underlying the conflicts between them, they can better express their emotions and build a healthier bond.

What Is the Scientific Basis for Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

EFT is one of the most scientifically validated forms of marriage counseling.Couple embrace at lake

This approach to marriage counseling draws on person-centered therapy, founded by 20thCentury humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. His person-centered approach is applied today in many areas, including marriage counseling.

Many scientific studies based on observation and experimentation indicate the importance of the attachment bond and the effectiveness of emotionally focused couples therapy in supporting love relationships between adults.

Studies in neuroscience also demonstrate that our brains are coded to connect secure attachment with safety. We experience separation from a close connection with a loved one as danger. When we are anxious, we often repeat survival or coping patterns learned in childhood. However, these reactions may be counterproductive in our adult relationships.

How Effective Is EFT?

Generally, 70-75 percent of couples who undergo this therapy move from distress to recovery. And 90 percent show improvement.

The therapy reduces distress within relationships. Partners learn to interact with each other in more successful ways.

And the recovery lasts. Follow-up studies show that couples who participate in EFT continue to communicate with and relate to each other in positive ways for years after the therapy ends.

A Highly Effective and Evidence-Based Treatment

Couples considering marriage counseling can gain long-term results by seeking help from a therapist trained in emotionally focused couples therapy.

When one or both partners suffer from depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, or chronic illness, couples can learn how attachment issues affect their relationship. Learning positive ways of communicating leads to behaviors that heal and create permanent change.

Emotionally focused couples therapy helps to create a more secure emotional bond between partners. Yes, indeed, it is a highly effective, evidence-based treatment.