Are you recovering from a relationship breakup? Trying to work out what went wrong so you don’t repeat the same thing over again. Or are you needing help with your relationship because you are fighting and stuck and miserable? Often a crisis ocurrs before anyone seeks the help of a couples therapist. Why? I guess we only want to change when things get way too painful the way they are. So couples come often :
- after an affair has been discovered,
- a gambling / drinking / porn problem has been uncovered,
- when one person is leaning out of the relationship and both partners as a result are feeling very unhappy.
Underneath these addiction issues and infidelity problems is often a host of small problems the couple have about everyday difficulties. So they trace back where the problems began with each other to differences in:
- managing money,
- in laws,
- conflicting sexual desires.
Yet I believe it is more simple than that because I find that couples have forgotten or never learnt how to be truly close, responsive and trusting with each other.
The common problem all couples have is distance! Therapy can help you lean in again.
Yet beneath all those everyday problems…….. is the really important fact that many in our world ignore at our peril! We are wired as animals to be emotionally attached and dependant on each other. Just like children need a parent for soothing, nurturing and protection. We are not meant to go through life alone. In sharp contrast to the individual focused, Western view of adulthood and maturity, attachment theory states that we need each other to survive and thrive. Study after study demonstrates that when we feel securely attached to our partner; we are more likely to feel calm, centered, confident and safe in the world. We are also more resilient when life is hard and we have to face scary things like a health crisis, financial reversal, or other painful or traumatic situations.
One particular form of therapy privileges this fact and helps you go deeper into understanding yourself and your parter and what is happpening between you. EFT (Emotion Focused Therapy) has developed a clear understanding about what makes a loving partnership and we can now understand how to shape it. So wether you are looking to strengthen a healthy relationship, kick start a tired one, or rescue one that has gone awry, this couples therapy can help you get more love, support and companionship.
The key to this approach is being guided to look at the emotional underpinning of your relationship. So the therapy gives you practical suggestions to stay open, attuned and responsive and this is the way to enhance or re-establish an emotional bond.
Research has established that 86% to 90% of couples undertaking a course of EFT report significant improvement and 70 -75% of couples recover from their distress. Partners learn to lean into their relationships to create the closeness and securety they desire. This comes with beginning to recognise their emotional needs for safety and connection and an ability to start requesting in an non confonrtational manner for partners to assist with meeting these needs.
What you need to know
Many people that come into therapy struggle to make the most of it by falling into common pitfalls. For advice on how to get the most out of couples therapy see my comprehensive blog here.
A great resource to help is An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples. This resource describes in depth how to create sustained improvement in your relationship using the L.O.V.E. technique.
Listen with an
Open heart and mind
Validate and acknowledge each other (Learn to respect your partner’s view of the world)
Express thoughts and feelings softly, simply and slowly.
This is so much harder to do at home when you are fighting all the time. In this way an objective third party (therapist / counsellor) can help be the interpretator between you, so that each person can learn to communicate what is really important in a way that the other person can truly hear it.
Are you a pursuer or a distancer and why does it matter anyway?
Couples are complex, but often they fight with each other in the same way over and over again. Each person has the same old dance moves. You may switch around the content of the fight, but the way you both interact is the same. A pursuer, protesting the lack of closeness and connection, may start a typical description of a fight saying ” He never listens. It doesn’t matter how long I talk to him or how many examples I give him, he just doesn’t want to listen. I am way down his / her list of priorities” Pursuers in relationships often feel not wanted, invisible and abandoned and they get angry and sometimes loud to try and get through to their partner with very limited sucess.
A distancer, or ( I call them a tortoise that pops up out of his shell) may retort ” I can never get it right or do things to her standards. It’s like I always come up short. That’s all I hear anyway, what I do wrong never what I do right.” Underneath it all withdrawers protect themselves and the person they love by moving away.They feel rejected, shamed, overwhelmed and not wanted or desired. So although we are more complex than these two labels, we are capable of actually becoming each other’s worst nightmares, when all we are trying to do is to get along! Pursuers trigger withdrawers because they get in their face, and withdrawers trigger pursuers because they need so much space.
It’s all about feeling close and connected – Are you there for me?
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a highly researched, empirically validated approach that relies heavily on John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory.
Couples who experience relationship distress all report feeling disconnected to their partner at key moments in the relationship. These moments lead to a predictable and painful set of patterns that further distance the couple from each other. Sometimes the pattern is angry and attacking; sometimes silent, seething and withdrawing; sometimes a combination of both. In any case, by the time the couple arrives in my room, the love and connection they once felt for each other is replaced by anger, hurt, frustration, criticism, hostility and sometimes hopelessness.
What happens in EFT?
At first you will tell the therapist about your experience in the relationship and together you will try to build a sense of trust and safety. The next task is to help YOU as the couple understand and make sense of the repetitive pattern that has gotten you caught in this awful dance of anger, hurt and distance. Once you have a deep, emotional understanding of your pattern, it is much easier for you to see the pattern as the enemy, not each other. The defensiveness, anger and criticism begin to subside and couples report they are starting to feel a bit safer and more connected.
At the deeper stage of therapy, the therapist helps each partner touch and express the more vulnerable feelings that lie just beneath the anger, frustration, criticism, defensiveness and withdrawal. Those tender feelings of hurt, fear, shame, and worthlessness, when expressed in the safety of therapy will draw you closer to each other. I’ve seen many couples who risk showing their vulnerability say something like, “Ohhhh, I had no idea you felt so unloved. I had no clue you were hurting. I wish you would have told me. It would have brought me closer to you. I don’t want you to hurt, and I don’t want you to suffer all alone.”
The goal of EFT is to create a secure, safe bond between you as partners. That does not mean you won’t ever fight or get disconnected. A safe secure bond means you can talk about your needs and vulnerabilities and seek each other out for contact, care and comfort. It also means you know how to repair (make up) when a disconnect occurs.
The role of the therapist is to really understand each partner and help you make sense of your experience. Dr. Sue Johnson states that “relentless empathy” is what is required from us as therapists to make sense of behaviors that at the surface seem “crazy” but make sense if we view them from an attachment lens.
EFT sees the therapist as a respectful collaborator, a process consultant and a choreographer of change events. It is our job to help each of you become aware of and express your emotions to each other. It is also our job to help you learn to tolerate and regulate your emotions.
Go on..be brave and give it a go
So couples therapy can definately help you with your relationship. It can help make you a better partner and teach you new skills, whilst also highlighting what you are doing well in your relationship already. So be brave and take action before things get out of hand and you feel truly distant from your loved one. Give yourself and your relationship the support you deserve by giving couples therapy a go…afterall you stand to gain more love, support and companionship. And what’s not to like about that?