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What is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Written by: Janet Fluker, M.Ed., M.S.
What is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) focuses on the connection between partners in a relationship. It was developed by Sue Johnson and based on attachment research done by John Bowlby 50 years ago. The premise of what is known as Attachment Theory is that humans have an innate need to feel attached to and comforted by the significant others in their lives. Adult relationships serve the same function as the mother-child bond to provide love, comfort, support, and protection.

Most of us bring “attachment wounds” from our families, former partners and current partners that create difficulty in our ability to trust and express emotion to our significant others. We get stuck in negative patterns of interaction and lose our connection. The roots of our arguments are usually some form of protest from one partner about not feeling connected, not trusting or feeling safe or secure. When those we are attached to are not available or not responding to our need to feel close or supported, we feel distressed. Anxious partners may pursue with angry requests and demands while fearful partners may shut down and withdraw. These patterns can become habitual, and couples often feel stuck in knowing how to change them, all the while creating pain and injury to their partners.

In EFT we focus on these negative patterns and work on changing them in the safety of therapy. Couples begin to intervene on their patterns and learn to express their needs for love, support, protection, and comfort directly to their partners without hiding behind angry words or withdrawing into silence. When partners learn to express these needs directly and “from the heart” it draws their partner closer, and they are better able to respond. This creates a “safe haven” that allows each partner to feel close, secure, and responded to.

Once couples are feeling connected again, their ability to manage conflict and problem-solve together as a creative team is restored.