Some common concerns bringing couples into therapy are:
- request for premarital work
- life stage transitions-pregnancy, parenthood, midlife,aging
- illness and loss
- consideration of separation/divorce
- exploration of consensual non-monogamy
A fulfilling intimate relationship requires partners to be available, responsive and engaged (ARE) with one another. To achieve this outcome it takes time and commitment. In this day and age with its unique demands and stresses, it is easy to become disconnected from your partner, to feel overwhelmed and not know how to find each other again. Couples who are disengaged are more likely to get caught in a cycle of arguing and bickering that can be relentless. It is when partners can no longer tolerate the tension of this negative cycle that many people consider therapy.
As a relationship therapist/consultant, I use an effective and well researched approach known as emotionally focused couple therapy (EFT). EFT is a collaborative, experiential approach that draws from adult attachment theory. The model is proven to help couples break old destructive patterns, opening the door to a more secure connection, so needs can be clearly seen, expressed and addressed.
Research studies find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements in their relationship.
What to Expect:
I love EFT since it provides both the therapist and the couple with a map so we can work on emotionally charged matters with the security of an evidence-based framework. EFT has three stages.
Stage One: The initial session involves bringing you and your partner/spouse together to discuss your current situation. I am always curious about the timing when couples chose to come in for therapy. Your answers to my inquiry will help me understand your pressures, motivation, intentions and expectations. During this session I will ask you questions about the history of your relationship and the onset of your relationship challenges. Most likely you will both have different perceptions and I will want to hear from both of you! Most important to the EFT approach is identifying the dance that you both feel stuck in and what distresses you as a couple. In other words, I need to get a clear picture of what happens to you when you are in conflict.
EFT operates partly from the premise, based on attachment theory, that humans have somewhat predictable reactions when our emotional connection to our loved one is threatened. Yes, part of our reactivity is biological. When threatened our automated nervous systems often activate a fight/flight/freeze reaction where parts of our brains slow down to allow other parts of our brain to focus on survive. It is often hard to reflect and rationalize at this time. Generally speaking when we are in fight mode we can be seen as the pursuers in the relationship and while in flight there are tendencies to distance and withdraw. Our perceptions lead us to experience emotions and thoughts that can lead us to take certain actions. These action tendencies can sometimes begin an interactional pattern that can escalate into a negative cycle that leaves partners to feel criticized, unimportant, unheard and unloved by the other. My intent is to first create a secure place to begin sharing your troubles, connect with both of you and help you identify this negative interactive cycle that is holding your relationship hostage. We start this process in the first session. I then need to see you both separately for individual sessions to get a better sense of your goals and understand significant events in your life and developmental/attachment history. The next part of stage one is helping you recognize some of your more vulnerable emotions that are often masked by anger and frustration and then to help you begin to understand how your negative cycle prevents you from getting your needs met. We also begin to identify what triggers your reactivity in the relationship. This can take some time depending on how entrenched your cycle has become.
Stage 2 comes about when both partners are engaged in therapy, have a sense of the negative interactive cycle, know what your triggers are and feel secure enough to start taking risks on an emotional level. Couples often begin to express their true fears and needs at this stage. The therapy helps to support both partners in this process which later allows them to begin to reach for each other and develop new positive interactions. Partners begin to feel more secure and it becomes easier to communicate and share what you long for in the relationship.
Stage 3 follows when couples have consolidated and integrated a new more positive way of being with one another. They are able to turn towards each other, not against or away from each other no matter what happens in their lives. Therapy can often wrap up at this stage, though some couples wish to continue with “maintenance sessions” where appointments are scheduled every 6-8 weeks or according to your own unique needs.